You’d think tourists would be a timorous crowd, that they’d go only where they think it’s safe to go. Not where it’s safe, but where they think it is. That should mean a windfall for the Philippines, as Thailand-heading vacationers think twice, for example.
But the statistics don’t seem to say so. Tourist arrivals in the Philippines reached 4.68 million last year—a mere 10-percent increase from 4.27 million in 2012. Meanwhile, Thailand’s visitors in 2013 increased by 20 percent, or 4.4 million, to 26.7 million from 22.3 million in 2012. Thailand’s increase equaled the Philippines’ total! And the tourists were probably right: The reality of Thailand is that the demonstrations were in Bangkok only, and only a part of Bangkok at that. Elsewhere, life went on as usual.
Tourists are a faddish crowd, they go where the “in” place is. That varies with the type of tourist: backpackers versus baby boomers versus oldies. Backpackers go where it’s exciting and cheap, oldies where it’s comfortable and hassle-free, and those in the middle where there’s something new and unusual. Backpackers eat at quick-service restaurants, oldies at swanky hotels where they can sit and eat comfortably. (I’ve never understood why oldies, or anyone else, take a cruise. I can’t think of anything more hideous than being stuck in a cloistered enclosure with unvarying menu, music you probably don’t like, people you may or may not but have no option but to like. And nothing to see but wave after wave. Oh, and the sporadic organized city tour.)
There are two tourism sectors that the Philippine government must promote more actively: medical tourism and retirement. Both are attractive ideas, retirement especially. The genuinely loving care and respect for the elderly (I sure love that) versus the Westerners’ “plonk them in an old people’s home” attitude add to a favorable climate and a place where a pension can go a long way. The desirability is certainly there, and it’s only a few hours away for the kids to visit during birthdays and Christmas. What more could one want?
But there’s an IF for retirement: medical services. Older people break down, they have more need of medical assistance, quite often very quickly. Rapid access to one of those machines that get one’s heart going again is kind of comforting to have.
The Philippines now has some excellent, world-class hospitals and doctors, but they’re all in Manila. As I discovered quite rudely when I had a very nasty fall recently, such excellence doesn’t exist in the provinces. The ICU in the hospital in Pagsanjan, Laguna, to where I was taken had only a blood pressure monitor, a bottle of oxygen and an old medical bed. In the areas where paradise reigns, where one would want to retire, there must be first-class geriatric medical services. That’s an essential first: quality emergency services available in minutes.
Which brings us to medical services. There’s no question—and again I’ve had the personal experience to back this—but that Filipino doctors can meet the best anywhere, yet until recently didn’t have the equipment and medical facilities of a modern hospital. Now they do. One can get medical treatment at a fraction of the cost with equal quality. The only fly in the ointment is insurance. Health services generally cover only treatment at home, as do some insurance schemes. So if one seeks treatment here, one pays for it. That must limit the attraction. Still, if one is paying for it, or if one’s insurance covers it, this is the place to do it.
Me, the other niche I’d be targeting is the businessmen. Encourage them to plan their business trip for the end of the week and have their family join them for a (long) weekend. These are the guys with money to spend. But it means that an upgrade of many of the facilities is needed, and making getting there a stress-free experience.
You don’t need to go overseas to enjoy a vacation. Here in the Philippines, there are some truly idyllic spots, and we’ve been to many. They are what they promise to be—exotic paradises.
My arbitrary Top 10 spots (there are many others) to go, in no particular order: 1. The Shangri-La in Boracay if you want to be pampered, or Sandcastles. 2. The underground river in Palawan for a memorable journey into the geological past. 3. El Nido (also in Palawan) for clear waters that seem to go on forever, and a resort that is truly 5-star. 4. Siargao, if you’re a mad surfer looking for monster waves. 5. Donsol in Sorsogon, where the butanding (whale sharks) frolic (well, not exactly frolic, but there’s nothing like swimming alongside these enormous, gentle creatures).
6. Mount Pinatubo, if you like climbing and a little excitement—who knows it just might go off while you’re there (you have to see its crater-lake, it’s a thing of beauty; pictures are all over social networking sites). 7. Bini island in Samar, beautiful rock formations that stagger the mind and a surf to excite. 8. Corregidor, Bataan (it was a long time ago, but that trip was certainly a historical one that sticks in the mind). 9. My “hometown,” Pagsanjan, Laguna, to shoot the rapids (it makes for a fun one-day trip for the kids, although the hustling by the boat boys is a bit annoying). 10. Almost anywhere else, because Filipinos just make the visit wherever you go a joy.
It truly is more fun in the Philippines! Go explore, you won’t be disappointed.