The Philippines' top destination is now Palawan. Bohol and Boracay will always be there but I would say four out of 10 travel tour bookings are now for Palawan.
There is growing interest in lesser known destinations. Travelers are looking for authenticity. Dumaguete in Negros for example is not a top-of-mind destination. It still has a homey feel to it, untouristy, and its hotels are mostly two to three-stars, and yet we find our clients like this. Puerto Princesa in Palawan has also become popular because of its authenticity.
Other untouristy destinations that are increasingly on the travelers' radar are Siquijor in eastern Visayas, Baler in Aurora province, Kalanggaman Island in Leyte, Camotes Island in Cebu, and San Vicente in Palawan.
Bicol is gaining interest as a tourist destination. Bicol has never really been part of our traditional travel agency offerings. It has natural attractions and beaches which may not be as nice and well known as Boracay’s or Palawan’s but they’re not bad, pretty much like the ones you’d find in Caramoan in Camarines Sur and Misibis Bay in Albay. Legazpi is still the hottest destination in Bicol and Bicol has a unique culinary heritage.
Davao is making a grand comeback as a destination. Davao is the hometown of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who served as mayor of Davao City for many years. The perception is that Davao is very clean, safe, a place where you can leave your cellphone and come back hours later to find it's still there, where people are disciplined and food and cost of living still quite affordable. In terms of attractions, they’re still the same – the Philippine Eagle sanctuary, Samal Island, Paradise Island, a beach frequented by locals, Mount Apo, and the food tripping opportunities. The best place for fresh tuna is Davao.
Airbnbs are on the rise in key cities like Manila, Cebu and Davao but have yet to take hold in other areas because property owners are either hesitant or unfamiliar with the concept.
Food and heritage tours are gaining popularity. Europeans look for culture and heritage, and there's lots of interest in Ilocos and Bohol. Ilocos has heritage churches, Calle Crisologo, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vigan, the best preserved Spanish colonial town in Asia – attractions tourists don’t expect to see. A lot of tourists don't know the Philippines was colonized by the Spaniards. To them, when you say Philippines, what comes to mind is beach.
Most of the big tour operations catering to the long or mid-haul markets such as Europe, the US, Australia and the Middle East, find that tourists from these markets usually travel a minimum of 10 days so the spending is really good. They start with tours to places like Banaue, then they go to the countryside like Bohol and reserve the last five days of their travel in a nice beachfront resort where they do their R&R. Manila is only a transient destination. In recent years, tourists have become a little mindful of their budget. For example, they've started switching from five star resorts to four stars for as long as the place is well located and safe. But they don’t scrimp on tours.
Jojo Clemente III is the president of Rajah Tours Philippines, a 45-year-old tour operations company in the country. He served as president of Philippine Travel Agencies Association from 2007 to 2009. For the past 45 years, Rajah Tours Philippines has been servicing inbound travelers, mainly those from North America, Asia, Middle East, Europe and Japan.
By Monica De Leon. Cover photo by Mon Corpuz.
Published March 2017