THE Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) declared Boracay as the Favorite Beach Destination 2015 during the annual Matta Fair in Kuala Lumpur in March.
Boracay’s fine white-sand beaches, as well as the Philippines’s biodiversity and wealth of natural resources, were cited by Matta during a news conference. And, at the time, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur also launched the Second Ambassador’s Tour to the Philippines, which would take foreign diplomats to Cebu and Bohol this year.
While Boracay remains the top tourist destination, despite the emerging problems about the destruction of its coral resources and pollution, the Philippines has many other beautiful beaches and attractive spots that can be promoted as alternative destinations.
Panglao Island in the province of Bohol, for instance, can rival Boracay with its rich diving spots and beautiful beaches. Bohol also has many of the country’s historical churches, which should be worthwhile to visit, despite the damage caused by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the province in 2013.
This is the best time to pursue a massive campaign to promote tourism and recover from the slower-than-expected growth in tourist arrivals in 2014.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) has declared 2015 as “Visit the Philippines Year” (VPY). The Philippines is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Ministerial Meetings and Leaders’ Summit in November, which is expected to have 25,000 international delegates.
Actually, the flurry of international events started in January, with the visit of Pope Francis, which gave global media exposure to the Philippines. In April the Philippines hosted the Madrid Fusion Manila, touted as the biggest culinary event in the world.
The commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the final battles of World War II in September is also expected to attract foreign visitors, particularly from the US and Japan.
The country is also hosting different events that feature international celebrities, like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and One Direction, as well as sports tournaments, like the Siargao International Surfing Competition and the Philippine Dive Show.
All these events help put the Philippines and its offerings of tourist spots in the global travel market.
Global travel web site TripAdvisor, in February, included three Philippine beaches in the 2015 Traveler’s Choice Awards. In addition to White Beach in Boracay, which was named the best beach in Asia, the list also included Yapak Beach (also in Boracay), which was ranked fifth, and the Secret Lagoon Beach in El Nido, which placed 16th.
Being an archipelago is a challenge to the development of transportation infrastructure. On the other hand, the country’s more than 7,000 islands offer an almost limitless variety of getaway spots.
Global news leader CNN noted in an online report in February 2014 that the Philippines had “some of the world’s most diverse marine life…and most of them are relatively unexplored.”
In addition to Boracay and El Nido, the CNN report, titled “The Philippines’s best beaches and islands” picked eight other attractive destinations, some of which may even be unfamiliar to Filipinos. The CNN’s list:
- Palaui Island in Santa Ana, Cagayan, is “all about raw beauty,” with white sands surrounded by volcanic rocks on one side and blue-green waters on the other. Snorkelers and scuba divers will enjoy the island’s coral gardens and rich marine preserve.
- Panglao Island, once a sleepy island, is now gaining popularity among tourists. It offers dolphin- watching, whale-spotting and diving among coral formations. Panglao is in the province of Bohol, which is famous for its Chocolate Hills (numbering more than 1,000), the tarsier (the world’s smallest primate) and Spanish-era churches.
- Bantayan Island, Cebu, which has remained relatively untouched by modern life. The island boasts of white-sand beaches and a magnificent view of sunset.
- Caramoan, Camarines Sur, has stretches of white sand, huge boulders and rock formations, caves, waterfalls, freshwater pools and underground streams. Mountain climbers can tackle Mount Caglago’s summit, which offers a magnificent view of the Caramoan islands and islets.
- Samal Island in Davao, has 118-kilometer coastline of white sandy beaches with clear waters, rock formations and mangrove and coconut trees. Visitors can stay in luxurious resorts or backpacker-suited accommodations.
- Siargao in Surigao del Norte is known as the surfing capital of the Philippines, but is also a beachcomber’s paradise.
- Great Santa Cruz Island, Zamboanga, has a pink-colored beach, which was the result of pulverized red coral being washed up from the sea floor, mixing with the white sand on the surface. However, visits to the island require a permit from the Department of Tourism in Zamboanga City, which provides security as a precaution.
- Pagudpud, a coastal town in Ilocos Norte, is known as the Boracay of the main island of Luzon, which can be reached by car from Metro Manila. It has caught surfers because parts of the island are exposed to winds that blow in from the West Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean, producing high waves.
It may be difficult to achieve the target of 10 million international visitors by 2016, considering that foreign arrivals totaled only 4.83 million last year, and this year’s estimate of 5.0 million to 5.5 million.
This should not, however, dissuade us from exploiting our natural advantage—the wealth of beautiful beaches and other vacation spots—to attract more visitors.
Addressing the environmental problems of Boracay should serve not only as a first step, but also as a reminder that we should preserve the beauty and protect the ecosystems in our tourist spots.
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