The Philippines is a stunning, rich and diverse destination, and until recently, only the most intrepid of travellers have ventured to discover its fascinating shores. But this is soon set to change, with the current climate of development suggesting the destination may soon be the latest emerging travel hot spot. Emily Millett writes.
There are very few destinations left in the world that have the same off-the-beaten track appeal as the Philippines. And with such a spectacular array of enticing tourism offerings, the destination is on the verge of experiencing a boom in its travel industry, as tourists the world over yearn for a more unique travel experience.
Commenting on the destination’s unique appeal was general manager, Amanpulo, Christophe Olivro: “The country is diverse, with thousands of idyllic islands which offer world-class surfing and diving. It has been relatively undiscovered until now, which for the seasoned traveller can be very attractive. Filipino hospitality and service is second to none and the country offers great value for money.”
And while the tourism numbers rise thanks to the curiosity of the adventure seeker, MICE tourism is also expected to bring forth significant increases, according to director of sales and marketing, Shangri-La Mactan Resort & Spa, Albert Lafuente.
“2017 is exciting as the Philippines will be hosting the ASEAN Summit and several ministerial events are happening in the country leading to the main Summit towards the end of the year,” said Lafuente.
In preparation for these high-profile meetings and events, the hotel is set to refurbish its biggest venue, The Marquee, in the hopes of improving its flexibility in handling and managing big groups.
But why is the world suddenly pricking up its ears and paying attention to the Philippines as a tourism destination worth visiting? According to general manager, Shangri-La Boracay Resort & Spa, Ester Marcaida, it is thanks to the Ministry of Tourism’s push to promote the destination internationally.
“We feel that because of the successful tourism campaigns, the world is starting to take notice of the Philippines,” she told TTG.
“Boracay, for instance, is seeing tourists coming from the usual places such as Korea, China, the US, Japan, Russia, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong, but is now also welcoming more tourists from Scandinavian countries, eastern Europe and the Middle East. This is also attributed to international flights to the island via Kalibo, as well as the recent accolade received by Boracay, which continues to be hailed as the best island inthe world.”
Boasting such a rich and diverse tourism offering, the Philippines is now focusing on how best to present its potential to experiential travellers, as Olivro told TTG: “For 2017, we have put together an adventurous and physical experience for those who want to discover Manamoc, Amanpulo’s sister island.”
According to Olivro, the day begins with a sunrise yoga session on the beach and a fresh Beach Club breakfast with cleansing juices. From there, the Amanpulo boat will take guests to Manamoc, just across the channel from Pamalican Island. A hike to the top of Mount English follows, allowing for amazing views of the surrounding islands. Amanpulo’s personal fitness trainer will then take guests through a workout regime utilising the terrain as a ‘natural’ gym. The day continues with a hike back down the mountain and a return to the resort for a revitalising lunch and an afternoon of snorkelling and paddle boarding, after which guests can then indulge in a body wrap or rejuvenating massage to ease their muscles.
Commenting on the need to create innovative experiences, Marcaida told TTG: “We continue to come up with out-of-the-box ideas to entice both the local and international markets – and one of the resort’s high-impact initiatives is the culinary event called Reservations in Paradise.
“This is an annual signature event conceived and staged by Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa’s team of innovative hospitality professionals. Reservations in Paradise elevates the essence of a luxurious stay with a weekend of food, wine and world-class entertainment amidst the elegance and natural environment of the resort. The next Reservations in Paradise is slated for March 24-26, 2017.”
Interestingly, the Millennial market in particular is emerging as the key driver of this new experiential travel trend, as marketing and PR manager, The District Boracay, Vina Mataganas explained: “It is worth noting that the majority of tourists are geared at experiential travel, and are constantly on the lookout for unique experiences. This may be attributed to the rise of millennials who rely on word of mouth, special offers and social media as a basis for their decision when planning their holiday.”
Moving forward into 2017, the hotel has prepared various guest-oriented programmes to enhance the overall experience, with plans to add more amenities including a new Kids’ Club, speedboat and paddle boards, as well as exciting new promotions throughout the year.
“Our Upperhouse Spa, which soft opened on December 2015, went full blast this year with various programmes. To cater to the need of our guests, we have added various new facilities like a conference room and a gym,” added Mataganas.
The District Boracay is not alone in noting an upswing in the influential Millennial traveller, as Lafuente commented: “We have been welcoming a new breed of travellers to the Philippines – they are younger, looking for adventure and more authentic experiences.”
In a drive to promote the destination, the hotel has hosted international media from various platforms to reach out to the Millennial market and has upped its social media activity with targeted campaigns and content that is fresh, relevant and engaging.
Along with the rise of the Millennials, the Philippines has also seen an increase in other new visitor markets, including those from the MENA region, as Lafuente told TTG: “The Middle East is a key market for development and we saw a significant increase in arrivals after Emirates Airline launched a direct flight to Cebu in March this year. Apart from tapping the expansive expatriate markets in Dubai, we are also leveraging on this flight to campaign for more visitors from Europe, with Dubai being the perfect gateway to Asia.”
While visitors from the Middle East have increased by six per cent since last year, guests from Australia have also risen by 27 per cent and North American travellers have increased by 38 per cent, according to Lafuente. Emirates Airline now flies to Cebu five times a week from Dubai, and this year Philippine Airlines (PAL) increased the frequency of flights between Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns to Manila. PAL also mounted additional flights to Vancouver, NYC and LAX, allowing travellers better connection options.
“We can see more multi-generation families travelling together now. Most of them are from Korea and Japan, Cebu’s top geo-markets, which can be attributed to improved air accessibility between these travel hubs,” said Lafuente. “For Cebu alone, there are about 69 flights per week servicing Incheon and Busan direct to Cebu. From Japan, direct flights are available from Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, and in December, ANA’s Vanilla Air will start flying direct to Cebu from Tokyo as well. The US market is showing traction since the launch of the Philippine Airlines’ direct flight to Cebu from LAX.”
Amanpulo has seen particular growth from the Chinese, Japanese and Korean markets over the past few years, according to Olivro, who commented: “We see a lot of domestic business as well, with many visitors travelling for a weekend beach escape. Honeymooners are spoilt for choice with the many picturesque islands that offer ideal island hopping. Amanpulo in particular is very popular with families due to the array of activities, both on land and sea, on offer.”
With the rise in the more adventurous, experience driven Millennial traveller, the Philippines is starting to tap into its endless tourism potential. And while still boasting an unmatched off-the-beaten track appeal, the destination is evolving at a fast pace, preparing to welcome increasing new markets to enjoy its rich diversity.