At the sidelines of the 2018 Philippine Travel Exchange (PhiTEx) at the Marriott Grand Ballroom in Pasay City, Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) Officer-in-Charge Arnold T. Gonzales spent a few minutes to talk about the impact of Boracay’s six-month closure on tourism arrivals; the chances of Madrid Fusion Manila coming back in 2019, and aligning tourism to a more sustainable path while at the same time, making it culturally relevant to international visitors.
A necessary cleansing
The world-class island of Boracay is in the middle of its six-month, government-mandated hiatus and is scheduled to re-open on October 26. While its famous powdery sand beaches helped make the Philippines one of the must-visit destinations in the world, its brief closure was a painful but necessary one.
“There are other beautiful beach destinations. It just so happens that it [Boracay] had to be closed and for a good cause: we have to clean. Just like a person, when you overuse, you have to rest for a while. This is also good news for our stakeholders because now they realize that we should not abuse our destinations, our environment,” said Gonzales.
Indeed, with this year’s theme of “Tourism is our Business: Guarding our Environment, Reliving our Culture”, responsible tourism and making tourism sustainable have never been put on a bigger spotlight.
Gonzales also said that in spite of Boracay’s temporary closure, tourists still came to the Philippines.
“Boracay is one of our islands. Of course, it’s popular and it’s known. But for example in Europe, since they are culture-oriented, they come to the Philippines not just to visit beach destinations but [also] to interact with people,” he said.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason. So it had to be done, it’s a lesson to be learned. And because of this, really, we are into sustainable tourism. We just have to convert whatever negative perception into something positive.”
Davao for pre- and post-tours
Aside from seminars conducted by former Environment and Natural Resources secretary Gina Lopez (on sustainable tourism) and Cultural Center of the Philippines president Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso (on cultural tourism), one of the highlights of the event is the focus on pre- and post-event tours.
While destinations in Luzon and Visayas dominate the itineraries, the lone entry from Mindanao is Davao City.
“Mindanao is not a hard sell,” said Gonzales.
“It’s just that, because of the travel advisories, you cannot bring mainstream buyers here and then later on say that you cannot go in other parts of Mindanao. It’s not good for business. Since Davao is not part of advisories in most countries, then we included Davao. And also, Davao is a safe and secure destination; no problem about that.”
Not just beaches
It was surprising to learn from Gonzales himself that the Banaue Rice Terraces is the number one destination for Europeans. The main reason for this is the chance to experience Pinoy culture and everyday way of life for themselves.
“Culture is something that has to be authentic; you have to experience it,” he said.
“They will not fly several thousands of miles or kilometers away from their continent and just to come to the Philippines and go to a beach destination. They have so many beaches in Europe. But when they come here, they want to meet the people, they want to experience the culture, they want to know the food, and the arts.”
Gonzales said that those who want to experience another land’s culture want to experience something authentic, not a “show.”
“That’s their [Europeans] definition of culture and that’s how we want it to be. We have to show the culture and traditions of the destination, their culinary heritage, the food, how they prepare their food, because when you go to a destination and you don’t experience the food, it’s kulang. It’s like you did not experience that place because you did not taste their cuisine,” he said.
Madrid Fusion Manila
Speaking of food, Gonzales said that negotiations are ongoing for the return of Madrid Fusion Manila in 2019, after this year’s festival was canceled due to lack of time. The event gathers the best and brightest chefs from all over the world and, if it pushes through, will be one of the most anticipated events on next year’s tourism calendar. — BM, GMA News