Philippines full of attractions for Koreans

7166262361_dd7c06c8e2_bAs Southeast Asian countries are currently emerging as the darlings for Koreans’ vacation destinations, they are keen on promoting their sightseeing spots. However, Maria Apo, director of the Philippine Department of Tourism-Korea, stresses that her country is ahead of its neighbors thanks to a number of specialties appealing to Korean travelers. “Our first main advantage is that the Philippines is, among Southeast Asia countries, very close to Korea. We are only four hours away,” the director said in an interview with The Korea Times in Seoul. “Therefore, it can be a weekend holiday getaway. Koreans can go to the Philippines on Friday and then be back on Sunday and some can even be back on Monday early morning and go to work.” She also said the second advantage is the country has 7,641 islands, recognized worldwide. “Many of them are world-renowned, meaning they are like Palawan and Boracay that have been cited by prestigious travel magazines of the world and given recognition of best islands in the world,” Apo said, adding magazines include Travel + Leisure magazine, Conde Nast, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor. “Even here, three of our islands – Palawan, Boracay and Cebu – garnered the top spot of a publication as best islands in the world.”

The low value of the local currency is also encouraging Koreans to travel to the Philippines, according to Apo. “The No. 3 (advantage) is value for money, I think in terms of Koreans, when the Korean won goes a long way if spent in the Philippines. About 100,000 Koreans are living in the Philippines and we ask them why do you like the Philippines? They say we have value for money,” she said. To Koreans, Cebu and Boracay are the Philippines’ household tourist destinations. But Apo said her country has a myriad of sightseeing spots to wow Korean tourists including Palawan and Bohol Island. “Palawan is not known to many Koreans although it is a top attraction. One of its primary attractions is the Puerto Princesa underground river, which is eight kilometers long inside a mountain,” she said, adding that people can travel the underground river by boat. She also said the archipelagic province is home to Tubbataha Reef, famous for diving, and El Nido and Coron that have nice areas for snorkeling and a lot of marine activities.  Apo also boasted of Bohol Island that she described as a “geological wonder.” “Carmen, one area in Bohol, has 1,760 hills equivalent to the height of a seven-story building. During summer, we call them chocolate hills because they look like Hershey’s Kisses, while during the rainy season they are called green hills. Can you imagine an area with 1,760 hills?” she said, adding there are no other places in the Philippines with that geological feature. She also said the tarsier is something not to miss when you visit Bohol. It is the world’s smallest primate and an endangered species found only in the Philippines and Indonesia. “It is one of the oldest living primates in the world. A lot of tourists go to a conservation sanctuary for tarsiers, where they can see them in the trees. It is part of a tour on Bohol,” Apo said. “When you don’t see chocolate hills and a tarsier, then you are not on Bohol,  even if you are physically on Bohol.”

Late last month, a Korean man was killed in Cebu and another Korean tourist came under gun attack in Manila in July, even though his wound was not life-threatening. Such recent crimes are raising concerns over security among Koreans who plan to travel to the Philippines.  Apo said her government is trying to take preventive measures as part of efforts to ease growing concerns. “Our president, Rodrigo Duterte, came here last June and had a meeting with President Moon Jae-in and part of their agenda was to ensure there will be protection for Korean tourists and citizens living in the Philippines,” she said. “So hopefully, these are isolated cases and we have trained some of our policemen to understand tourists, and are doing seminars for them. Hopefully there is really a big campaign we need to do to assure tourists and policemen are also doing their job to see perpetrators get punished.” She added that the Philippine government plans to start Korean language training in the customs at the airport, which will help Korean tourists be better understood by personnel in the government and in the airport.

Land of K-pop, K-drama

Last year, 448,702 Filipinos visited Korea, with the Philippines becoming the sixth-largest source of foreign visitors after China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand. Apo said Korea is emerging as a really attractive travel destination thanks to hallyu, the Korean wave of pop culture sweeping Asia.  “Korea is the land of K-dram and K-pop, especially for the younger generation _ and they come to see the areas they see on TV, the K-dramas and maybe restaurants,” she said. “I think Korea is also a unique place to visit because it is a blend of East and West. East is an Oriental part such as palaces that are very nice attractions to Filipinos and at the same time, the western culture is K-pop. It feels very western and modern. “So, it is a blend of those things.” Other than K-pop, Apo said shopping is also encouraging Philippine people to fly to Korea. “What they shop for here – especially women – is cosmetics. We have Korean brands in the Philippines, but here they offer like gift sets,” the director said. She added if Filipinos buy some cosmetic products here, Korean vendors give a bundle of extras, a sharp contrast to the Philippines’ straightforward pricing for a particular item.  “I think that is very creative,” she said. Last year, 1.6 million Koreans visited the Philippines, up 9 percent from a year earlier. Taking a closer look at the number of arrivals, it has steadily increased from 2011 to 2017. On the back of the winning vibe, its tourism department is set to continue the upward trend. “We will find a way to introduce more new products. Those who have been to the Philippines are like 1.6 million, so we would like them to come back in the coming years because if they have been to just one or two places, they have not seen the entire Philippines,” she said. “So we will introduce other destinations, other forms of activities and more Filipino culture that they can also understand us and also our food.”

By Kang Seung-woo

(Korea Times)


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