Is the Philippines Asia’s next hot travel destination? Michael Taylor looks at the evidence.

The Philippines welcomed 5.35-million arrivals in 2015, representing a growth rate of almost 11 per cent over the year before, which was more than double the Asian average of 5 per cent and the global average of 4.5 per cent.

“The Department of Tourism (DOT) is confident it will reach this year’s target of 6 million visitors,” says Michael Celis director of sales and marketing, Discovery Primea, Makati, Philippines.

“Foreign tourist arrivals in the Philippines breached the four million mark as of the end of August 2016, sustaining the upward growth trend. This is the first time the country surpassed four million arrivals in just the first eight months of the year.”

According to the latest World Investment Report 2016 of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Philippines will rank among the 15 most favoured investment destinations for multinational enterprises over the coming three years.

“UNCTAD said China, India and the US will remain the preferred destinations for foreign direct investments (FDIs) between 2016 and 2018,” Celis says. “Hong Kong and Singapore were bumped off from last year’s list and were replaced by the Philippines and Myanmar.”

According to Josephine Lim, managing director for Southeast Asia, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, multinationals are progressively increasing their presence and financial investments in the country.

“This is evident with the rapid development of Manila Bay and Fort Bonifacio Global City areas,” Lim says. “It has a great labour market with a large and growing young English-speaking population who are naturally warm and welcoming – traits that provide affinity for labour intensive service industries such as hospitality and food and beverage.”

Still the Philippines faces challenges

When compared to other Southeast Asian travel destinations, the country’s infrastructure doesn’t seem up to snuff. Are the roads adequate? What about the airports? There are also security concerns as well as the frequent typhoons and occasional earthquake or volcanic eruption. Is the country safe for tourists?

“The perception of security in the Philippines is a mixed one, but with the growing number of visitor arrivals into the country, this seems to be moving towards a more positive note,” Lim says.

“There is so much potential for growth, and as the government continues to invest in the infrastructure -increasing the capacity of the country’s airports to handle larger and more frequent air traffic flow, better connectivity within the internal transport network, and the progression towards a more stable political bandwidth – the Philippines is currently one of the region’s fastest-growing economies, and poised to become one of Asia’s powerhouses in the coming three to five years.”

Michael Mahinay is resort manager at The Funny Lion, a 31-room boutique hotel located in Palawan, one of the most spectacular travel destinations in the Philippines.

“The key challenge that we are facing is how to meet tourist demand without jeopardising the attractions,” Mahinay says. “The local government as well as the investors and hotel and tour operators are working side-by-side to achieve a sustainable tourism.”

But there are opportunities as well as challenges

Three islands in the Philippines scored highly in Condé Nast’s Top 20 Best Islands in the World list for 2016: Boracay came in first, Palawan came in second and Cebu came in fifth. Palawan alone has three major tourist destinations: Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron.

“The key opportunity that we are seeing right now is the overall popularity of Palawan, being one of the world’s best islands,” Mahinay says, adding that The Funny Lion will expand its product and services to meet the high influx of tourists.

The Funny Lion is a member of the One-Of Collection, a locally-owned hotel group with three other properties of 16 to 96 rooms. Four more properties are in the pipeline.

“We’re looking at a consolidated 30 per cent growth in sales next year, plus we will start construction of more properties,” says Joy Anne Denoga-Bautista, vice-president of sales and marketing at One-Of-Collection. “Exciting times ahead!”

According to Olivier Chavy, CEO of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, it’s easy to see why the Philippines is attracting leisure travellers from around the world.

“It is still affordable in comparison to other destinations, and it also offers a high level of service, friendly people plus of course beautiful natural beaches,” Chavy says.

René Egle, general manager Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa takes it a step further.

“There is a wealth of natural attractions that are justly famous, diverse cultural experiences from distinct periods in the country’s history, and then there is the Filipinos’ resilient cheerfulness, always so genuine and heartfelt,” Egle says. “They say it’s more fun in the Philippines, and that’s a fact!”