PHILIPPINE travel and hospitality companies are all chuffed about their participation in the recent World Travel Market (WTM) in London, with many expressing excitement about the strong buzz the Philippines continues to generate in the international market.
The only key issues raised though, were “accessibility” to local destinations outside of Metro Manila, and the high cost of airfare from Europe to the Philippines, sellers said. Many European travelers will have to fly through the Middle East, Hong Kong, or Singapore before arriving in the Philippines. They will travel anywhere from 10 to 21 days from the North (Baguio, Mountain Province, Sagada, etc.) down to Bohol or Dumaguete.
Jose C. Clemente III, president of Rajah Tours Philippines, told the BusinessMirror they were occupied with meetings from morning to afternoon. “Even the new sellers were really busy. What surprised me was that there were many buyers from various markets that expressed a real interest to include the Philippines in their offerings. The [buyers] ranged from Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Latin America, and others. This is what I like about WTM, the markets are more diverse.” This was the first time for Rajah Tours to participate in the WTM—held from November 7-9 at ExCel London—since 2019, or before the pandemic.
The WTM is among the largest and most influential travel trade fairs in the world. This year, organizers said, attendance soared by 22 percent to 43,727. “Personally, I spoke to about 30 buyers with about 70 percent being new contacts. If only 30 percent pan out, I’d be happy,” said Clemente. “Plus we’re also talking beyond 2024 so there are potential downrange bookings,” he added.
Getting far away from Manila
BOHOL Beach Club, which also rejoined the WTM after the pandemic hiatus, also received a good turnout of buyers this year. “Bohol has always been considered a ‘reliable destination’…meaning, it never fails to deliver and satisfy the needs and expectations of the guests, as facilities are very much available, attractions are abundant and can cater to a variety of guests [whether looking for land-based or in water activities] and a variety of accommodations that can cater to a vast clientele,” said Allan Santos, general manager of the resort. “Based on my discussions [with the buyers], they would rather stay away from busy cities [such as Manila] and stay in beach resorts,” he added.
He said he had 14 scheduled meetings with both existing clients and those just wanting to explore possible trips to the resort. “They were from the UK and other European countries, including Russia and Poland. Aside from these scheduled meetings, I was also able to receive walk-in inquiries and all considered, 60 percent were firm buyers and pursued contracts with us.”
For his part, Gregor Zajc, general manager of Blue Horizon Travel & Tours, a long-time participant at the WTM, said his buyers sought popular spots like El Nido, Siquijor, Bohol and Siargao. “Many agents follow the trends from social media, where these destinations are often presented as ‘best of’ in international press,” he explained.
‘Authentic experiences’ sought
BUYERS are looking for “reliable and open destinations with functioning infrastructure and operational hotels. While Covid was no longer a topic, the focus became more on the private experiences that the tourists can experience while in the Philippines. They want to combine as many destinations as possible during their trips, which on average, will last approximately two weeks,” he said.
This was echoed by Clemente, who said in the past, “visitors would just require your usual guided tours. Now they are looking for more authentic and experiential activities…. So we offered them activities like the Sardine Run in Cebu, the Cadapdapan Rice Terraces in Bohol, the Kawa bathing in Antique and others, which were activities we didn’t use to sell before.”
But he added, buyers expressed concern about “accessibility, since we’re an archipelago. They want to see everything that they’ve heard of [Banaue, Boracay, El Nido, etc.], but are limited by how to get there with less travel time.”
Zajc also underscored their buyers’ concern on the “air fares and flight availability, which is often a challenge due to limited seats available and high fares.”
There were 32 participants representing 14 tour operators and six hotels/resorts in the Philippine delegation to the WTM. A report indicated the Philippines will likely earn 200 percent more in visitor receipts in 10 years. (See, “PHL could earn 200% more in tourism dollars—WTM,” in the BusinessMirror, November 13, 2023.)https://businessmirror.com.ph/2023/11/13/phl-could-earn-200-more-in-tourism-dollars-wtm/
Image credits: DOT/TPB