July 28, 2014

Fil-Am visitors lift lean travel season*

      TOURIST NUMBERS have picked up with the arrival of some 300 Filipino-Americans and their mainstream American friends, just as the lean travel season has set in.

The visiting Fil-Ams are in Manila for the 9th Ambassadors, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour of the Philippines (ACGTDT) from July 28 to 31, which features an audience with President Aquino, lunch at Heroes’ Hall, and a tour of Malacañang on July 30. Aquino is expected to speak to the participants and boast of his administration’s successes on the economic front and his drive against corruption.

“Through this successful tour program, we are able to entice Filipino-Americans as well as their friends in the US to visit us and to deepen their appreciation of the history, heritage and culture of our country and the natural warmth of our people. Aside from being a safe place to travel, the Philippines is one of the best places for medical and wellness tourism as well as a retirement haven,” said Domingo Ramon Enerio III, chief operating officer of the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), in a press statement released over the weekend. The TPB is the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism (DOT), one of the lead agencies that implements this tour program.

The lean travel season usually begins in June and lasts until October-November, reflecting the country’s monsoon season which also attracts a number of strong typhoons.

The balikbayans (returning Filipinos) and their American friends will be coming from Washington D.C., where the Philippine Embassy in the US is located, as well as Hagatña, Guam; Chicago; Honolulu; Los Angeles; New York; and San Francisco, which host Philippine consular offices.

The program was launched in 2005 during the term of then Philippine Ambassador to the US (now Foreign Affairs Secretary) Albert del Rosario and implemented in cooperation with the DOT and TPB.

In July 2011,  it was designated as a banner tourism project under the DOT’s Pinoy Homecoming Program. Major sponsors include the Western Union, Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza), Duty-Free Philippines (DFP), and Philippine Retirement Authority. Tieza and DFP are also attached agencies of the DOT.

In a separate press statement, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia, Jr. described the 9th ACGTDT as “a wonderful opportunity for balikbayans and our American friends to experience some of the Philippines’ best tourist destinations.”  He will be leading the delegation from the US.

Enerio said tour participants arrived to a VIP reception with sampaguita leis at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Sunday, with the rest arriving today, Monday.

The participants paid for a basic tour package, which cost $530 (excluding airfare) for a four-day/three-night (double occupancy) stay at Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati with daily buffet breakfast, lunches and a welcome dinner with entertainment at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel, and a fellowship night hosted by Western Union. Roundrip international airfare was via Philippine Airlines where applicable.

Enerio added that participants will also join the wreath-laying ceremony at the historic Rizal Monument in Rizal Park (formerly Luneta), and may opt to go on special tours to Corregidor, Intramuros, the Metropolitan Museum at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Manila Ocean Park, shopping malls, or have spa treatments.

“To cap this year’s visit, the participants will be brought via guided tours to the luxurious resort of Pico de Loro Cove at Hamilo Coast in Nasugbu, Batangas. They will arrive to a festive welcome of native songs and dances with rondalla music with the ‘Star for All Seasons”, now Provincial Governor, Vilma Santos-Recto, and Nasugbu Mayor Charito Apacible personally joining them throughout their stay at Hamilo Coast,” the TPB chief said.

The participants will feast on a sumptuous Southern Tagalog lunch and be entertained with a cultural show.  They will have a free afternoon where they can enjoy indoor games and outdoor sports, go island-hopping, swimming, snorkelling, or scuba diving. The coastal area of Batangas is located within the Verde Island Passage dubbed by marine biologists as the “center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity.” More than 65 percent of the world’s marine species, endangered sea creatures, and some 300 coral species can be found in this area.

Meanwhile, Rajah Tour Philippines has arranged optional tours for the participants to other destinations Laoag-Vigan, Cagayan de Oro-Camiguin, golf clubs in Southern Luzon, Davao, Cebu-Bohol, Iloilo-Bacolod, Kalibo-Boracay, Camarines Sur-Albay, and Puerto Princesa-Palawan. These tours are scheduled from July 31 to Aug. 2.

From January to April 2014, visitors from the US (266,972) and Canada (56,571) accounted for 19 percent of the 1.7 million total visitor arrivals for the period.

“We encourage our countrymen here to invite their relatives and friends in the US and Canada to plan and book for these tours, especially for ‘Visit Philippines 2015,’” said Enerio.

The DOT has targetted foreign visitor arrivals to reach 6.8 million for 2014, and 8.2 million for 2015. Foreign visitor arrivals numbered 4.7 million in 2013, falling short of the 5.2-million target for the year.

*Have no idea if my piece was published in the BusinessMirror today as its web site is under construction. So there.

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