Tourism in the Philippines has been flourishing since the 70s, but it did experience a mild decline in the mid-80s when it slowed down in comparison to other Southeast Asian countries. The tourism industry has been steadily growing, though, in the past decade and is expected to grow even more as the country’s Department of Tourism aggressively undertakes new directions in its marketing campaigns both locally and globally.
The present administration has endeavored to pump in more resources to the tourism sector hoping to attract more foreign travelers into the country; a move that they feel would boost local employment figures that would benefit the economy. The campaign has been aptly titled “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” and locals are helping to promote the country’s many attractions on the Internet, including social media sites and blogs.
A vibrant country composed of 7,107 islands; Philippines is an archipelago teeming with life and the most breathtaking natural wonders as well as man-made attractions. The biodiversity of its marine life, especially in the world-famous Tubbataha Reef as well as that in Verde Island, now being dubbed by the Smithsonian Institute as the “Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity” after it made a study which concluded that there are 1,738 overlapping marine species in a 10 x 10 km area, only means that its waters have the largest concentration of marine life in the world. Tubbataha Reef teems with 300 species of corals, 40 coral genera, seven sea grass species, 71 algae species, not to mention the large marine life that have been sighted in the area including dolphins, marine turtles, and various sea birds species.
The islands are likewise home to around 12,000 species of plants that have been identified by scientists in the archipelago, including 8,000 species of flowering plants, about 3,800 kinds of trees, around a thousand kinds of ferns, and almost a thousand species of orchids. It is home to the Philippine eagle, the biggest eagle in the world, the Philippine tarsier which is the smallest mammal in existence in the world, and the dugong or sea cow which is the only herbivorous mammal in the world today.
Foremost of the attractions of the country are its island destinations and beaches, of which is the world-famous Boracay which was awarded Best Island by the international travel magazine Travel & Leisure. But Boracay is just one of the beautiful islands in the archipelago. Caramoan has gained international recognition because of the TV series Survivor. The island province of Palawan is also a major tourist destination. El Nido is recognized a paradise by most international travelers. Panglao, Malapascua, Coron, Bohol, Siargao, and Siquijor are also fast gaining recognition in the travel market and there are more undiscovered islands that can be major tourist attractions if developed and marketed properly. Diving sites in these islands are also undoubtedly some of the best in the world due to the biodiversity of marine life in its waters.
The Philippines is also a major shopping destination in Asia with some of the largest malls in the Far East having been constructed in the country’s urban hubs. Traditional shopping destinations such as Quiapo, Baclaran, Divisoria and the Greenhills flea markets are also some of the most widely visited in Asia. Metro Manila is a major hub for business, entertainment, the arts and culture and receives a major portion of foreign travelers in the tourism industry. Other cities which are frequented by tourists are Cebu, Baguio, Davao, Angeles, Vigan, and Puerto Princesa.
Natural parks, national reserves, and World Heritage Sites are also major attractions such as the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Puerto Princesa Underground River, the Baroque churches of the Philippines, Mayon, Pinatubo, and Taal volcanoes, and so many other reserves are also visited widely both by local tourists and foreign travelers alike. With recent strides made by the travel industry in the Philippines, it is hoped that even more people will be encouraged to visit the attractions that the islands have to offer.
South Koreans are the most frequent visitors to the country, seconded by Americans. Japanese tourists come third, the Chinese at fourth place and Taiwanese at fifth place. Other nationalities who frequent the Philippine Islands are Australians, Singaporeans, Canadians, Hong Kong nationals, and Malaysians making them the top 10 nationalities who visit the islands. The Philippines is trying to attract more Europeans into the country and has made serious efforts in attracting the British who come in at 11th among the nationalities that travel to the country by aggressively marketing the country’s attractions through various campaigns.
The limitations to the growth of tourism in the Philippines is generally attributed to the lack of infrastructure that will allow large volumes of tourists to be moved to other parts of the Philippines outside of the National Capital Region, the lack of trained human resources that can cater to tourists at accepted standards of the travel industry, the lack of tourism planning development, financing and management, proper land use planning and development policies, and external factors such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, regional conflicts, internal political disputes and insurgency that deter tourists from visiting the country. Recognizing these factors, the Philippine government has embarked on a strategy that can address these issues including the development of key infrastructure projects, maximizing existing attractions and facilities, streamlining institutional structures and removing policy constraints and developing contingency plans to address external factors when they do occur. It is hoped that these moves can create a more vibrant tourist industry for the country in the coming years.