FILIPINOS in the United States, now numbering nearly 3.5 million, must make time to visit and rediscover their home country, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said on Wednesday.
Overwhelmed by the staggering number of Filipino-Americans, Teo made the call during her four-day speaking engagement in various Filipino communities in New Jersey and San Francisco last month.
The US is the second top source market for the Philippines, accounting for 15 percent of visitor arrivals in 2015.
As the Department of Tourism (DOT) works with travel and tour operators to entice Fil-Ams and mainstream Americans to visit the Philippines, US visitors are expected to grow significantly in the coming years.
Some 337,000 Fil-Ams reside in the New York and New Jersey areas, where the DOT official was invited to fiesta-like gatherings, which also featured Pinoy entertainment celebrities.
From the East Coast, Teo flew west to San Francisco and joined over 15,000 mostly Fil-Ams at the Pistahan Parade and Festival 2016 at the Yerba Buena Gardens.
“Undeniably many of our fellow Filipinos experience homesickness and longing to visit our home country, reunite with relatives and friends,” Teo said.
In New Jersey, she told 500 Fil-Ams at the People Ball: “It’ll be great if you invite your American friends and Facebook friends to come see our world-class tourist destinations and experience genuine Filipino hospitality. Remember, there’s no place like home.”
Teo welcomed the offer of partnership with the Advancement for Rural Kids (ARK) Foundation, an organization that supports a feeding program for grade school kids, and provides new income opportunities for rural communities. ARK Foundation volunteers are mostly young professionals and next generation Fil-Ams.
“To be able to give back to the community, particularly the marginalized sector, is in fact the bottom line of our inclusive tourism program,” she said.
“It is important that those visiting our home country personally witness the change that is unfolding under the Duterte administration,” the DOT chief said.
Teo reaffirmed the plan for Manila’s hosting of the Miss Universe pageant next January—at no expense on the part of the government in terms of production cost.
The DOT will give priority to “underdeveloped destinations” in the Philippines and unravel best-kept secrets, such as those in Davao, Siargao, and Cagayan de Oro, she said.