I have been fortunate enough to travel around the Philippines more than a dozen times since I was little. I absolutely love the Philippines – it’s my mother’s homeland so perhaps I’m a little biased – but it always amazes me why the Philippines still struggles to attract the same number of international tourists as its neighbours.
After all, the beaches and attractions are just as beautiful, English is widely spoken, the people are extremely friendly and family oriented, it’s cheap, relatively safe, and you can get an authentic and unique cultural experience.
Here’s my point: in 2013, 26.55 million tourists visited Thailand; 8.80 million visited Indonesia (including 3.27 million just to Bali); and 7.57 million visited Vietnam. The Philippines attracted a mere 4.68 million tourists. Why?
In my opinion it’s because of the following reasons:
Poor infrastructure – with the exception of Boracay, the majority of the Philippines has very poor infrastructure, especially when it comes to tourism. It doesn’t help that the Philippines is so physically spread out which means getting to popular destinations often involves multiple air transfers and/or long journeys on overcrowded boats and buses. Take El Nido for example, perhaps the biggest tourist drawcard after Boracay and an absolutely spectacular place which rivals Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Krabi in Thailand. The only way to get there is via an expensive charter plane, or 5-7 hours in an uncomfortable van/bus on bumpy winding roads, or 7-9 hours on a slow ferry. Then there are the regular brownouts, poorly equipped ambulances and hospitals, and lack of ATMs and backpacker hostels.
The food – don’t get me wrong I love Filipino food, but I grew up eating it. I would say the majority of Westerners find Filipino food to be too salty, too porky, and all very similar. I mean there’s a reason why Filipino food isn’t recognised as an international cuisine and why there aren’t many Filipino restaurants like there are Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, etc. Perhaps this unfamiliarity with the food translates to unfamiliarity with the country, and when a tourist is deciding on where to have their holiday, they instinctively associate the cuisine they like and are familiar with to their desired destination. This brings me to my next point below.
Lack of knowledge – whether it comes down to unfamiliarity with the food, poor tourism campaigns, or a combination of these and other factors, people just don’t know about the Philippines! I recently took Angie to the Philippines for her first time. She admitted it was never a destination she thought she would have ever visited – simply because she didn’t know much about it or what to expect. Likewise whenever I have shown people my holiday pictures they have seemed surprised to see just how beautiful the Philippines is and the kind of unique activities you can do there. If people were more familiar with the country as a travel destination and what it had to offer then obviously they would be more inclined to visit and see it for themselves. Take Boracay for example – despite being named one of the best beaches in Asia, I have encountered so many people who have still never even heard of it!
With all that said, I have noticed in recent years that the Philippines is changing and tourism is improving, albeit slowly. Competition between discount airlines and new direct routes has meant accessibility is cheaper and easier than ever before.
Also with the rise of social media, blogging and Instagram, people are slowly seeing the real beauty of the Philippines from a different perspective. I just hope that this translates into higher tourism, purely because of the increased revenue and jobs it creates for the Filipino people.
What are your thoughts? Reply in the comments section below!