Manila is the buzzing capital city of the Philippines. It is a teeming metropolis where you can shop, eat and play to your heart's content Manila is the buzzing capital city of the Philippines. It is a teeming metropolis where you can shop, eat and play to your heart's content

The Philippines has been overlooked as a travel destination in the past, but with a new tourism plan and infrastructure development, GCC travellers won’t be able to resist these beautiful islands (all 7,107 of them).
Claire Malcolm reports

With a new five-year Tourism Development Plan focusing on maximising its natural assets, and infrastructure development opening up inbound opportunity, the Philippines is on a mission to target GCC travellers.

The destination certainly has some catching up to do. It currently languishes in sixth place in terms of foreign tourist figures, out of seven countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asia Nations.

But the Philippines wants to double foreign tourist arrivals to 6.3 million by 2016 (the 2011 forecast is 3.75 million) by improving access and connectivity through infrastructure investment and development of four new international airports.

At this year’s Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai, the government’s tourism authority announced that GCC travellers would be targeted through a sustained campaign to raise general awareness.

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Benito Bengzon, assistant junior secretary for International Tourism Promotion, Department of Tourism Philippines, explained: “Considering limited resources, we plan to start with the development of general information brochures in Arabic and utilise the internet.

We also plan to conduct familiarisation trips for GCC-based media in order to spur print and word-of-mouth publicity; and also invite GCC-based travel agents to develop tour products.”

The UAE’s Kanoo Travel says it is seeing growing demand from diving enthusiasts, family vacationers, honeymooners, backpackers and businessmen.

“It is a growth market and recent statistics show a 15.3% increase in tourist arrivals from the Middle East region in the first five months of 2011 compared to the previous year,” says a company spokesperson.

Saudi Arabian visitors are leading the way with a 16.2% growth in outbound business in April 2011 against 2010, followed by Qatar and the UAE respectively at 5.5% and 2.5%

Bengzon attributes this increase to “renewed vigour” in its promotional campaigns after a five-year lull and zero marketing into the region. “2009 was the breakthrough year as we established a Middle East team, as well as returning to participate in the ATM and through the Emirates Holiday World programme.”

“This has been further boosted by the relaxation of visa rules for GCC nationals; the development of world-class attractions, new direct flights and the market’s instinct to try something new and different,” he adds.