Visit the Philippines 2015: Are We Ready to Be the Next Big Thing in Asian Tourism?

Sunset in El Nido Palawan

Being a travel writer, blogger, and photographer, I have the great opportunity to explore nearly every corner of the Philippine archipelago as well as some of Asia’s most popular destinations. I’ve seen different lands as well as our own and from all my travels, I can say the Philippines have so much potential to become a true tourist magnet in this continent.

Beach in Babuyan Group of Islands
Beach in Babuyan Group of Islands

You may have noticed videos and other promotional campaigns showcasing the country’s major tourist attractions. 2015 is the year where the Visit the Philippines campaign is in full swing. Through the power of social media and other advertising strategies, everyone can play a part in promoting our beautiful land, attract tourists, and boost our country’s tourism.

El Nido in Palawan Philippines
El Nido in Palawan Philippines

The big question is, however, are we prepared for the influx of tourists?

A True Pearl of the Orient

I’m a proud Filipino, yes, but I really believe that we can be a tourist hotspot like our neighboring countries because our country is really beautiful. We have 7,107 islands and each of them bears a uniqueness and beauty that is truly on par with other island destinations around the globe. There’s nothing quite like our beaches. Our culture and history is even as beautiful and diverse as the beautiful tourist spots we have to offer.

We are very friendly and hospitable people. Most, if not all, Filipinos can speak conversational English. This is one of our biggest advantages over other ASEAN countries. Westerners need not feel alienated when they travel our shores because there is no language barrier between locals and tourists.

Despite these strong points, one does wonder why we’re not on par with our ASEAN neighbors when it comes to tourism. We are less popular compared to hotspots like Hong Kong, Singapore, or Bali.

Our natural wonders are pristine and better left untouched, but for other aspects necessary for a successful tourism industry, there is so much to be desired. Based on my observation, here are some of the pressing issues we need to address to make our country a better destination for tourists:

Much Ado About Airports

Plenty of airports outside of the big cities are simple too small for commercial aircrafts. Some even have sunset restrictions, limiting flight options. Tourists appreciate plenty of travel options so they can plan their dream travel itineraries. Even some of our major airports are infamously considered as one of the worst in the world. We pay so many terminal fees which our guests are also required to pay, yet we don’t see much improvement.

Kalibo International Airport
Kalibo International Airport 

Bigger and better airports, like those found in Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand, make a country more accessible and inviting to tourists.

A Subpar Transportation System

Once our tourists arrive, they’re going to need ways to get around. From arrival, there is already a lack of tourist-friendly transport from the airport to anywhere in the metro. Some taxi drivers are abusive, attempting to wring every extra peso possible from tourists.

Traffic Jam in Edsa photo by Elaine Ross Baylon
Traffic Jam in Edsa photo by Elaine Ross Baylon via Flickr

In the cities, there’s the MRT. We all know how much of a headache our MRT system is. Just imagine how difficult it would be for our foreign guests. Overcrowding and lack of interconnectivity are only two of its many problems.

We have so many transport options, this is true. We have buses, jeepneys, and even trycicles. In fact, we have too much of them and they all contribute to heavy traffic flow. A tourist who only has a couple of days in the city will not appreciate spending a huge chunk of his or her time waiting out the traffic.

The Streets Could be Safer

We are not much for biking or even just walking outdoors. The middle class is more partial to the “mall culture” where travel is through interconnecting indoor walkways. As a result, the streets have become bases for gangs and petty criminals to mug pedestrians. Tourists who are used to walking down safe streets in their hometown become victims of these crimes.

Developing a pedestrian-friendly culture should be a priority of local governments. Else, we should give out warnings that our own streets are not safe for pedestrians, locals or otherwise. Of course, unsafe streets could be a red flag for travelers who don’t want to take the risk.

Expensive Accommodation

The number of hostels in Metro Manila is increasing as a result of a rise in local and international backpackers visiting the Metro. This is a small reprieve to the fact that we actually have one of the most expensive accommodation options in Asia. One experience was a recent trip to Bali where I stayed in a five-star resort for 3 nights. The amount I paid during my stay would’ve afforded me just one night in any resort in the Philippines. This is one of the few reasons why our ASEAN neighbors get more tourists (millions more!) than us.

Expensive Visa Extension

Visa extensions are another thing that can be very expensive for tourists. According to this source, foreign travelers in PH can pay anywhere from Php 2,830.00 to Php 8,489.00 for visas that last for up to 59 days. If tourists want to stay longer, they need to buy a 12-month ID card. This costs approximately Php 2,750.00. If tourists want express processing of their visas and visa extensions, they could pay express fees ranging from Php 1,000.00 to Php 2,000.00.

This is a stark contrast to visa extension fees for other nearby countries. Thailand only requires approximately Php 2577.76. You can extend your stay in Cambodia for only Php 1,991.95, and Indonesia for Php 869.64!

Lets talk about numbers

Tourism Statistics
ASEAN Tourism Statistics source : ASEAN.org

In 2012, 89.2 million tourists visited ASEAN. Out of 89.2 Million, only 4.2 million visited the Philippines which is equivalent to 5 percent of the total tourist arrival in ASEAN.

What can we learn from our ASEAN Neighbors

I just hope our Department of Tourism and local stakeholders work hand in hand in studying successful practices done in other ASEAN countries and see if they can also develop similar tourism standards so our tourists can soon enjoy more affordable and cost efficient tourism establishments like hotels, medical tourism facilities and develop more homestay programs in locations that has no enough accommodation facilities.

It’s a sad fact that some local tourism stakeholders are not even familiar with their destinations carrying capacity. This is quite alarming because this only means that the environmental preservation is not even part of their tourism plan.

Beautiful Sunset in El Nido Palawan
Beautiful Sunset in El Nido Palawan

It’s no question that the Philippines have hidden gems that are just as breath-taking as famous tourist spots in Asia. We have the attractions that can wow the world, but so many important factors that will make tourists feel welcomed and safe still need so much work. Yes, it’s true that “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”, but one has to wonder—are we really ready to accommodate all the tourists we hope will visit?

These, of course, are simply my own opinion. You are welcome to share your own thoughts. Comment below! 

Related Post: Find a Dentist in the Philippines.

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