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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Local tourists flocking to new destinations, doing extreme sports

When tourists think of Bohol, chocolate hills and gentle tarsiers are usually the first things that come to mind, not a heart-stopping drop into a deep gorge.

There's more to the island-province than bug-eyed primates and brown mounds. Just a couple of hours away, the Danao Adventure Park offers the exhilarating Suislide and Plunge.

The local version of the zipline, the Suislide consists of a pulley suspended on a cable, which is mounted on an incline, according to the Eco/Extreme/Educational Adventure Tour Danao website. Meanwhile, the Plunge is a canyon-swing adventure mounted over a gorge that is 200 meters high and 300 meters wide.

While not for the faint-hearted, such extreme activities offer an alternative vacation for tourists who want more than laid-back sightseeing. This is exactly what the annual Travel and Tour Expo will do, putting the spotlight on emerging Philippine destinations, from Tuguegarao in Luzon to the Camotes Islands in the Visayas.

The Expo will be held February 15-17 at the SMS Convention Center in Pasay City.

"There are a good bulk of local players coming in exhibiting during the fair," said Philippine Travel Agencies Association President John Paul Cabalza, noting that they increased the number of booths to 554 from last year's Expo of 477.

The PTAA identified nine emerging tourist destinations that they will aggressively promote: Baler, Bataan, Camotes Islands, Davao, Leyte, Mindoro, Samal Islands, Siargao Island and Tuguegarao.

"We're actually looking at more domestic players gaining ground and at the same time assisting the Department of Tourism. This is a good example of the public private partnership," Cabalza said at a press conference Tuesday.

Cabalza said the emerging destinations include the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, where there are already 17 resorts and hotels. Meanwhile, in Baler, more than 15 resorts are currently operating, Cabalza said, noting that the popular surfing destination also has numerous waterfalls.

"We went there, and it was a fun trek. Even if you swim in their waterfalls area, it's not that deep," said Cabalza, adding that the waterfalls are well-managed.

Cabalza also recommended Baler's history trail, which includes Baler Church, the site of the Siege of Baler in 1898. The trail also includes Ermita hill, where only a few Filipinos survived the Tsunami of 1735 that wiped out the entire town.

Aileen Clemente, chairperson of the 20th Travel Tour Expo, said the fair is an opportunity for emerging destinations to become more comfortable before promoting themselves outside the Philippines.

"Since there are new destinations that we are promoting, this is like their first dry run of their destination, their product, their hotels... When they get that confidence level, there's no stopping them from gaining all the inbound market as well," she said.

Promoting domestic tourism

In 2011, the revenue from foreign tourists reached about 100 billion pesos, while the revenue from domestic tourists was at 800 billion pesos, according to Department of Tourism Assistant Sec. Benito Bengzon Jr.

In 2012, the number of domestic tourists exceeded 30 million. "We're seeing a lot of Filipinos going around the country. More than ever, there is a greater sense of appreciation, greater pride in what the country has to offer and we feel that's one of the factors that will push domestic travel," said Bengzon.

He added that the increase in airlines operating within the country contributed to this growth, as it gave consumers more options.

Similarly, there is a variety of options when it comes to accommodations and facilities for travelers. "If people want the luxury, five-star type, we have it. If they opt for the more Spartan budget type of accommodations, we also have it. But definitely, domestic tourism will continue to grow," Bengzon said.,

PTAA Media Committee Chair Nit Ragaza noted that many foreign tour operators will be participating in the Travel Tour Expo, and this is also an opportunity to promote domestic tourism.

"While their purpose is to sell their country, unavoidably they will be moving around and they will see also the beautiful spots that we have, and they can also relay this to their countrymen. Hopefully this will translate to more visitors in the Philippines," Ragaza said.

Promoting the Philippines abroad

Bengzon also encouraged Filipinos to travel abroad, as this allows them to promote the country.

"The more Filipinos go abroad, the wider the network that we have. Marketing the Philippines is not just the sole responsibility of the DOT. It's everybody's business, and we're happy when Filipinos go abroad and start spreading the word around that it's more fun in the Philippines," he said.

While tourists can easily book their trips online, the fair gives them an opportunity to find out about other destinations, as well as take advantage of promos and discounts. According to Clemente, the expo has something for everyone, from luxury deals to budget trips.

This year's fair is also bigger than last year's event, which drew some 60,000 visitors. "The fact that we're getting huge numbers is a very strong indication that there is deeper appreciation of tourism and travel among Filipinos," Bengzon said.

To reach this year's target of 100,000 visitors, PTAA expanded the fair to include more exhibitors and prizes, as well as celebrities and special guests, including Hello Kitty, who will be brought in by the Japanese Embassy.

The expo will also be streamed live online to be able to reach more people. "We'll be scheduling the activities there as well so you can see what are the gimmicks and what are the shows that will be playing onstage and in each booth," she said.

Ragaza said visitors to the expo will not have to spend hours queueing up in order to purchase airline tickets. "They don't have to really fall in line at Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines or ZestAir. They can go straight to the 42 participating tour operators and they can actually make the purchase there," he said.

More information on Travel Tour Expo 2013 can be found on or call Fairs & More at (02)8451324 or (02)7596680. — DVM/HS, GMA News

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