Prepped and ready for its big stage debut, the Philippines is currently enjoying international fame as one of the top emerging destinations to watch for the coming years. Emily Millett discovers just how the country plans to keep up with increased popularity and demand from new market segments.
The Philippines is experiencing something of a spotlight moment. The destination, which for years went relatively unnoticed on the travel and tourism radar, is suddenly undergoing a serious boom, with international visitors from around the globe eager to uncover the multitude of rich offerings this archipelagic destination has to offer.
Significant growth was warmly welcomed across all international feeder markets between January to September this year, compared to the same period in 2017. Inbound arrivals grew by 25.6 per cent in 2017, reaching 6,620,908 foreign visitors in total. Some 3.706 million international arrivals were recorded in the first half 2018, promising a positive run towards the 7.4 million goal by the end of the year.
And with this growth, the destination’s tourism officials have set out a new tourism strategy for development, in a bid to achieve the projected growth in tourist numbers and expenditures over the next decade. This new strategy will focus on integrated sustainable tourism management for Central Philippines; further development outside of the already popular Cebu and Boracay regions, identifying viable critical environmental, infrastructure and community-based projects; and focusing on rectifying existing infrastructural inadequacies.
And some of these infrastructural inadequacies are already being addressed, with a huge incoming supply of hotel rooms expected to join the portfolio in the Philippines in the next five years. Due to robust demand, a number of international as well as home-grown hotel groups are adding properties in the destination, both within and outside Metro Manila, catering to the full spectrum of traveller, from the two- and three-star hotels catering to millennial backpackers, to the branded luxury properties for the more high-end traveller.
Bangkok-based Red Planet Hotels – Asia’s largest and fastest-growing hotel company focusing on the budget sector – has upgraded its network in the Philippines with the developments and openings of five new hotels in the destination this year, under the group’s Red Planet Japan subsidiary.
Commenting on the recent ground-breaking ceremony for Red Planet Manila The Fort, was the group’s CEO, Tim Hansing: “The recent acquisition of prime development sites in the Philippines allowed us to move forward with the ground-breaking of The Fort, reflecting Red Planet’s proven ability to deliver on its growth plan. With the rapid expansion of travel flows between Japan and the Philippines, as well as accelerating tourism arrivals in Manila, the revenue and profit contribution to Red Planet Japan by new hotels in the Philippines will be substantial over the coming years.”
Planned openings between 2018 and 2020 also include Red Planet Manila Binondo, Red Planet Quezon Aurora Boulevard and Red Planet Manila Bay, all of which opened earlier this year, as well as Red Planet Entertainment City, which is set to open in 2020, with 330 rooms located adjacent to Manila’s Bayside.
International arrivals include Dusit International, with five properties slated to open in 2019, including dusitD2 The Fort, Manila, dusitD2 Davao, Dusit Thani Residence Davao, Dusit Thani Mactan Cebu and Dusit Princess Cebu City.
Marriott International is also growing in the destination with the slated openings of Sheraton Mactan, The Westin Manila Sonata Place and The Residences at The Westin Manila Sonata Place in 2019, joining The Westin Manila Bayshore and Sheraton Manila Hotel, which opened in 2018 and 2017 respectively.
Meanwhile, a Japanese group is set to debut in the Philippines with the upcoming opening of the 11-storey Hotel Okura in the Resorts World Manila complex, while Hilton Hotels & Resorts has further enhanced its portfolio with the October opening of Hilton Manila, also inside Resorts World Manila.
Talking to TTG about upcoming group developments, director of sales and marketing, Resorts Discovery Shores Boracay and Club Paradise Palawan, Cathy Nepomuceno said: “We are prepping for the opening of another resort in El Nido, Palawan, marking a new brand for the group, Kip & Kin, targeting the Millennial market.
“This will be a combined hotel/hostel concept with vibrant colours and quick, no frills service, but maintaining Discovery’s distinct ‘service from the heart’ concept,” she added.
Next year, the group is also set to welcome increased room inventory at Club Paradise Palawan, with the suites and villas growing from 50 to 95 to meet the increase in demand. According to Nepomuceno, the main additions are the Hillside Suites, situated in the middle of the island and overlooking the blue waters of Coron.
REOPENING OF AN ISLAND
One major development set to further boost tourism in the Philippines is the recent reopening of Boracay Island on October 26, following an extensive six-month clean up and rehabilitation of the area. The reopening is in line with the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) drive for more sustainable tourism growth moving into the future, with the newly relaunched Boracay focusing on being an environment-friendly destination.
“Boracay Island was closed in April to undergo rehabilitation. It was reopened to tourists in October, and The District Boracay made it to the list of environmentally-compliant hotels allowed to operate on the island,” said marketing and PR manager, The District Boracay, Vina Mataganas. “Along with the reopening of the hotel, we also opened our newest restaurant – The Plenary – and café – House Brew Café. Both are located at the ground floor of the hotel with stunning beach views.”
According to Mataganas, The Plenary offers elevated Filipino classic cuisine with a modern twist, while The House Brew Café offers a healthy vegetarian menu, as well as gelatos, pastries and specialty coffee. The hotel has also changed the menu at its home-grown restaurant, introducing new international offers.
“With the temporary closure of Boracay, tourists were diverted to other equally beautiful Philippine destinations,” Mataganas told TTG. “Now that Boracay has reopened, people are excited to see and experience the new Boracay. Actually, stakeholders and tourists are now more environmentally conscious – and this is good news, as we move towards sustainable tourism.”
The island’s closure, catalysing the opportunity to introduce and boost travellers’ awareness of other tourism destinations in the country, was key to retaining the country’s positive month-on-month performance on tourism arrivals.
Commenting on these unexpected benefits that emerged subsequent to the closure of one of the country’s flagship destinations was undersecretary for tourism development, DOT, Benito Bengzon Jr: “The fact that we have kept ourselves afloat is a very strong reflection of how resilient the industry is, how quick we are to make adjustments with our marketing and promotions, and I think, also a very strong communication of how prepared the other destinations are in welcoming the influx of tourists, who otherwise would have gone to Boracay.”
And as a result of the recent reopening, hotels on the island have been driven to upgrade their offering. The Discovery Shores Boracay used the six-month rehabilitation period to add new suites to the property, as Nepomuceno explained to TTG: “We have launched a new addition to our resort, namely, the Signature Suites. These are 11 luxury keys targeted towards a more discerning market.”
DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL GROWTH
One failsafe feeder market that has always been clued up to the plethora of offerings waiting for visitors to the Philippines is the loyal domestic market.
Commenting on this lucrative group, Nepomuceno said: “We still see a lot of Filipinos visiting the various tourist spots. We, as locals, can never visit enough of the tourist spots here in the Philippines, and as such, domestic travel has increased dramatically in the last few years and the market has remained very strong for our resorts.
“Internationally, we also see a lot of tourists from neighbouring countries such as Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, as well as from the US, Australia, the UK and Canada.”
According to Nepomuceno, these particular international feeder markets primarily come to the Philippines for business and leisure, while the MICE market also continues to grow steadily, with many more opportunities in the next five years predicted in this segment.
Another feeder market that is currently growing in influence is the all-important Millennial market, whose demands continue to shape the future of the industry.
“The Millennials are the current movers and shakers in both the domestic and international markets. Their travel patterns are based on their lifestyle, focusing on unique experiences,” Nepomuceno told TTG.
In response, The Discovery Leisure is addressing the demand for experience-driven travel by launching a series of experiential packages and offering an authentic sense of place according to destination.
“We have recently launched female oriented packages, as it is also prevalent that female travellers have increased, whether solo or with a group of friends,” added Nepomuceno.
Following a significant upsurge in tourist arrivals, as well as increased grace from the domestic market and peaked interest from an emerging Millennial sector, the Philippines is settling into its status as an emerging tourism hotspot to watch, with a stronger strategy and an impressive portfolio of infrastructural developments.