As a frequent foreign visitor to the Philippines, I thought I would comment on tourism. It always saddens me that the Philippines cannot capitalise more on tourism, and I think it is because the tourist industry always seems to be trying to compete in the tourism market of 15 to 20 years ago, not today.
I speak from the Australian perspective, so that my colour things, but Australian tourists are generally looking for different and authentic experiences, and other things are a bonus.
I recently took a three week trip to the Philippines and took my father and a friend along, both of whom were going for the first time. The parts that they loved were getting off the beaten track staying with a friend’s local family in Surigao, experiencing different foods, the few intact natural areas we travelled to, the delight of Vigan and learning about Manila’s fascinating history.
Australian travellers have a range of choices when it comes to holidays in Asia—there are plenty of destinations with modern shopping malls and casinos (not to mention that we have those at home as well). You could be anywhere in the world inside a mall, and those that are really serious about shopping will go to Hong Kong or Singapore. The Philippines still seems to push that sort of development as if it is still the 1980s and that cannot be found in many places in South East Asia.
We were dismayed in Vigan to see that fast-food chains are slowly taking over some of the historic houses on Calle Crisologo and renovating them in unsympathetic colours.
Likewise the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros is lovely, but its ground floor looks more like American colonial timber architecture and could have been designed better to fit in with Intramuros’ heritage.
The article cites Angkor Wat as being the primary attraction in Cambodia, and that is true.
It shows the pulling power of something unique and historical. If the Philippines could restore Intramuros properly (as has been done with Casa Manila) and look after its other historical treasures, I am sure the Philippines would attract a surge in interest.
What it comes down to is being confident to present to the world your best features, without trying to overdevelop and emulate what other countries have done. The Philippines has amazing natural and historical assets, a warm and friendly population with excellent English and a laid-back, fun-loving and fascinating culture. All that is required is the basic infrastructure to allow these natural strengths to shine through.
For the record, I think the “More Fun in the Philippines” is a great campaign that plays to these strengths and have come across many people here who remember the ads and tagline when I tell them where I am going.