A melting pot of festivities, culture, and adventure—not to mention a rich history, perfect beaches, and friendly people—the Philippines is a country you should put on your 2015 travel list!
by Percy Roxas.
The year 2015 is “Visit the Philippines Year.” The country, which for many years has been trailing its ASEAN neighbors in terms of tourism growth, is ready to rise up to contend with its historic tourism fortunes. On the heels of its most successful tourism campaign yet—“It’s More Fun in the Philippines”, —“Visit the Philippines Year” supports the campaign and gives it a fresh lease of life at the same time.
Already, the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) is riding on the crest of the renewed awareness of the region, which consists of 7,107 islands. Tourism figures are expected to reach seven million by the end of this year, surpassing previous years’ figures. Despite this figure being “minimal” compared to Thailand’s and Malaysia’s 20 million plus arrivals, it certainly proves that the Philippines is now, albeit slowly, finally attracting more visitors.
Why the country has been left behind in the tourism game has long been baffling industry analysts and observers. “Perfect beaches, friendly locals, and a rich colorful history – why has the Philippines lagged behind its neighbors?” asked a CNN reporter during a news report on tourism numbers.
Today however, the Philippines seem to be enjoying a brand new respect. The country has never been more peaceful and politically stable, and economic growth is also on the rise as travelers are rediscovering the country.
For example, in the recent Philippine Travel Exchange, the biggest number of foreign buyers of tourism products and services arrived in Manila. “We’ve never received this kind of attention before,” said Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. who went on to add: “Tourism revenues are, in fact, the fastest-growing in this part of the world”.
Part of the reason for this may be that holidaymakers and travelers are increasingly going to Asia for their travels, and finally the Philippines are getting their share.
Lots of praise is coming to the Philippines for its tourism sector. At the recent TTG Travel Awards in Bangkok, the Philippines won the “Travel Destination of the Year” award. In Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2015,” the Philippines secured eighth place. Another regional tour organization named the Philippines the “Destination of the Year.” Conde Nast Traveler readers chose Palawan as the number one island in the “30 Best Islands in the World” and Boracay as number eight. Forbes Magazine even included one the Philippine cities, Dumaguete, in its list of “7 Best Cities to Retire.”
A group called STA Travel said recently: “We are confident the Philippines will be one of our must-visit destinations for 2015.” These are just a few examples, but they are indeed a much-deserved recognition for a destination with so much to offer.
So, why the Philippines? Why choose a developing country that still needs to improve its tourism capacity to allow more growth, to remove bottlenecks in airports, etc., and in general needs to develop the three essentials that are key to tourism growth, namely infrastructure, finance and communications? Because travel is adventure, and visiting the Philippines is one jolly big adventure.
Despite the seemingly inadequate tourist facilities in the country—and tourism officials are now seriously trying to address this important traveler issue—the Philippines is a place of endless discovery, a country that surprises at every turn, and a country of thrills and fun.
Many locals speak the English language and the Philippines have a long, checkered history combining Asian, European, and American influences, which have further enhanced its rich pre-Hispanic culture, when it was already trading with the Chinese, Siamese, and Japanese. Indeed, the Philippines stand at the crossroads of the developed Western world and the Orient.
Unique in being the only Catholic country in the region, it was also the first and only colony of the United States, and for a while it was under the hands of the Japanese.
But the Philippines are as Asian as any other country in the region.
The archipelago lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, stretching more than 1,840 kilometers and visitors can easily find subtle influences from its neighbors: Taiwan, China, Japan, and Hong Kong to the north, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand to the west, Borneo and a chain of Indonesian islands to the south, and to the east and south, the waters of the Pacific Ocean sweep along the headlands that look out towards Micronesia and Polynesia.
Its unique location has made the Philippines a commercial, cultural, and intellectual hub since the dawn of its history. In fact, the Philippines boasts many firsts such as being the first Asian country to rise up in arms against Western invaders (Lapu-lapu), being Asia’s first democratic republic, having the first university in Asia (University of Sto. Tomas) built in the 15th century, and having Asia’s first airline (Philippine Airlines), among others. It is also worth noting that the Philippines were second only to Japan in economic prosperity in the 1960s, before the rise of the Tiger economies.
Across the archipelago are treasures that make the Philippines more than just another tropical paradise. From the deepest ocean to the highest mountain and everything in between – tourism options are boundless. You can dive in some of the world’s best sites and explore everything from World War II wrecks through to UNESCO World Heritage reefs, surf, windsurf, kite board, snorkel, and swim to your heart’s content, as the Philippines have the fourth largest coastline in the world.
Within its surrounding seas are many of the world’s most interesting marine animals, from whale sharks, dolphins, sea cows, and hundreds of species of fish and coral, to some rare species unique to the country. In fact, unique flora and fauna can be found all over the country such as the money-eating eagle, the mouse deer, Christmas worms, and the smallest fish in the world.
The beaches are made from powdery white sand, as well as dazzling red and pink sands – gorgeous slices of paradise stretch from the north to the south! With 36,289 kilometers of land, you can explore hundreds of warm, tropical, islands and find a beach all to yourself. Boracay, Palawan, Camiguin, to name just a few of the best.
There’s more: an underground river in Palawan, the Chocolate Hills that are actually made from limestone in Bohol, sunken underwater islands, and a lake within a volcano within a lake. There’s so much for visitors who love nature and adventure to discover. As Filipinos love to say: “You’ll never run out of places to explore in our Philippines because even nature is definitely more fun here!”
Now, it has been said that the Philippines’ biggest asset is its people, which as the DOT website says are “bright, happy, and it shows!” A Filipino humorist describes Filipinos by saying: “We spent 300 years in a convent, 30 years in Hollywood, and three years in a geisha bar.” This quote reflects the country’s colorful view of culture and its uncanny sense of celebration, fun, and humor. They are fun loving, easy-going, sensible, hardworking and certainly among the most hospitable and friendliest people on earth.
Last but not least, the Filipino culture is filled with color, obvious not only in its many festivals, fiestas, and celebrations – every region has several – but also in its daily ways of life, from the iconic jeepneys, tricycles, and outrigger boats to the exotic food.
Throughout the islands, fiestas are celebrated almost every day. Every occasion is an occasion to have fun and feast, and foreign guests are always welcome!
So, if you are looking to visit a new exciting, friendly destination in Southeast Asia and you want to go somewhere that is a melting pot of festivities, cultures, and adventure – then make it the Philippines!