The Philippines is currently discovering how to progress while keeping its core values intact, as it sets out to protect its delicate environment amidst the build-out of its mighty tourism industry. Aleksandra Wood writes.
The year 2019 has brought forth a plethora of changes for the Philippines’ tourism industry, resulting in an abundance of developments by movers and shakers across the islands. As the destination’s tourism sector progresses, measures have been undertaken by its leaders to ensure profound yet preserving advancements that serve both residents and visitors equally.
Statistically, tourism is certainly looking up for the Philippines, as the Department of Tourism reported a total of 3,489,270 arrivals during the first five months of 2019, a 9.76 per cent increase on last year’s figures. In particular, May saw the highest month-on-month growth rate this year to date – 15.62 per cent – from 537,743 to 621,719.
Maintaining its foothold as the top source market for the islands was South Korea, with 788,530 arrivals recorded from January to May, indicating a steadfast growth rate of 11.76 per cent and making up 22.6 per cent of the total arrivals. Just last month (November 25), the Philippines Department of Tourism announced a new Implementation Programme on Tourism Cooperation between the two countries. Running from 2019-2024, the agreement will see joint programmes and activities realised, which will bolster two-way tourism promotion between the Philippines and South Korea.
Secretary, Philippines Department of Tourism, Bernadette Romulo-Puyat declared: “For nine years now, Korea is undisputed in its position as the top source market of the Philippines. With this renewed pledge on tourism cooperation between the Philippines and Korea, we are hopeful we can sustain and intensify the already-strong ties that we enjoy.
“In the pipeline are product training programmes for sub-agents in the Korean cities of Busan and Daegu. On top of this, we will encourage more airlines to fly direct to international gateways other than Manila from key cities in South Korea,” she further noted.
Meanwhile, China trailed closely behind with 733,769 arrivals for a staggering 30.96 per cent increase and with a 21.03 per cent market share, while the USA took third place with 472,469 arrivals, up by 1.98 per cent, and Japan came in fourth with 281,988 arrivals, up 2.19 per cent.
The majority of these growing markets contribute to the ever-sought out diving and MICE segments in the Philippines, prompting tourism players to focus on developing these sectors to encourage repeat visitors.
Director of sales and marketing, The Farm at San Benito, Jennifer Sanvictores revealed exclusively to TTG: “With medical travel and wellness tourism becoming popular, the country can take advantage of promoting facilities catering to this need to visitors, who originally came to the country for leisure.”
Sanvictores shared that the introduction and combination of medical, dental and wellness tourism has been one of the highlights of 2019 for the Philippines.
“The Department of Tourism is relaunching the Philippines as a wellness and medical destination, having formed a coalition with the objective of creating attractive healthcare tourism packages to cater to international tourists visiting the country for medical tests and health checks; surgery and cosmetic surgery; dental care and aesthetics; and wellness travel,” she remarked.
Directly contributing to this significant change to the Philippines’ medical and wellness, The Farm at San Benito centres its expertise around health travel, offering travellers the world over numerous holistic programmes, spa treatments, fitness regimens, yoga and meditation practices.
Concurrently, developments in the shape of hotel openings from reputable hospitality brands are taking place far and wide, with the country having solidified its stature as one of the fastest growing destinations in Southeast Asia.
As for new arrivals, Sheraton Manila Hotel was the first to arrive on the Philippines hospitality scene this year, having opened its doors in January with 393 suites, lofts and deluxe garden rooms, with Park Inn by Radisson Iloilo following suit with 200 keys. Meanwhile, Belmont Hotel Boracay launched in July, offering 442 guestrooms.
Marriott International made global headlines with the announcement of plans to more than triple its portfolio in the country in the next five years. The expansion will see the debut of several of the hospitality giant’s brands in the Philippines, including hospitality icon – The Ritz-Carlton, Element and Westin.
“The amazing growth we are seeing in the Philippines is testament to Marriott’s strength in and commitment to the market, coupled with a rapidly growing economy,” president and managing director, Marriott International Asia Pacific, Craig S. Smith stated. “We look forward to bringing new hotels to the Philippines together with our trusted hotel owners, enabling more choices with unsurpassed experiences for our travellers.”
Travellers can look forward to the opening of Four Points Palawan Sabang Beach in 2020; The Ritz-Carlton Manila and The Westin Manila Sonata Place in 2021; and Element Palawan Puerto Princesa in 2024, to name a few.
ALL FOR A CAUSE
However, as is valid for travel industries around the world, today’s developments can certainly take their toll on the currently fragile environment. The Philippines has made preservation and sustainability a primary concern to its evolution as a destination, adopting an ‘all for a cause’ mentality.
Sanctivores of The Farm at San Benito explained: “There are certain destinations in the country that have become a victim of overdevelopment and overcrowding that lead to the destruction of the environment and deterioration of local residents’ quality of life.
“For a long time, Boracay and Baguio have been the face of Philippine tourism. These two destinations have captured many tourists with their alluring beauty and exceptional culture. As the number of visitors increased, more establishments were put up and infrastructure projects were rolled out, which, no doubt, encouraged more tourists to visit these destinations, up to the point where these places became too crowded,” she stressed.
Tackling this issue head on, the Department of Tourism has established a strategic partnership with a major provider of telecommunications services in the Philippines, Globe, which will entail jointly advocating for the adoption of sustainable practices among all stakeholders concerned.
The company recently set up an Ecobooth on Siargao island to serve as a hub for environmental awareness, conservation and the sharing of best practices, particularly concerning marine biodiversity. Visitors to the Ecobooth can exchange their plastic bags and plastic bottles for an eco-bag and get exciting freebies, such as a water tumbler and metal straw, if they avail of GoSakto promotions. Further to this, Globe is working on a partnership with Lokal Siargao, Bathala Land Tours and Bayatakan Farm Experience, three businesses that value sustainable, responsible and inclusive tourism.
“Behind every responsible adventure, jobs are generated and nature is further protected. Tourism, if done hand in hand with communities, is one of the best ways to redistribute wealth from higher income cities globally to the lower income countryside,” CEO of Tralulu (a Philippines startup striving to offer experiences to travellers that help local residents promote sustainable tourism in their communities), Andrew Cua opined.
Tralulu offers a digital booking platform that connects travellers around Southeast Asia to local guides, who can provide them with authentic experiences in locations such as Binondo, Poblacion and Quiapo. These special tours give the tribes another source of income, thus sustaining the cultural heritage of these communities, and ultimately redirecting traffic from overpopulated touristic destinations in the country.
Initiatives such as these are pivotal to the sustenance of the Philippines’ most prized possession – its exotic natural surroundings. And although the development of its tourism industry is inevitable, there is no reason for any of this glorious destination’s natural assets to be compromised.