A group of travel executives, joined by a team from the ABS-CBN Europe news bureau, flew from the United Kingdom to Manila and Boracay Island to test the viability of Philippine tourism under the new leadership of the crime-busting president President Duterte.
The goal was to see what the country has to offer British tourists, as violence amid the President's relentless anti-crime campaign is seen to potentially have a negative impact on the tourism industry.
The tough leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose war on drugs has left thousands of suspected users and pushers dead, has alarmed some local tourism operators. They fear extrajudicial killings related to the anti-drug campaign might discourage tourists from visiting Boracay or the Philippines.
More than 7,000 people have died in the anti-drug war, but the Duterte administration has maintained that less than half could be attributed to police anti-drug operations.
But the executives are optimistic.
UK-based travel executive John Kalia, director of Crystal Travel, in partnership, with Turkish Airlines, organized the familiarization tour on Boracay island to better market the beach destination to European travellers.
The 7-day trip included a quick tour of Manila’s financial district in Makati, the Luneta Park, and the historic Fort Santiago and Intramuros.
The tour also included a visit to the oldest premier hotel in the Philippines, the Manila Hotel, the penthouse of which served as the residence of General Douglas MacArthur during his tenure as military advisor in the Philippines during the Commonwealth government. The hotel has since housed world leaders, royals and iconic stars.
Three nights were then spent in Boracay, Aklan.
Boracay continues to attract local and foreign tourists. During the first half of 2016, almost one million tourists visited the island, an increase of 15 percent from the previous year.
Tourist arrivals are good for local business.
“With the booming of Boracay, with hotels coming in, I think mas maganda pa ang future ng Boracay. For this year, we already sold 50 percent of the total number of rooms, until December of 2018. It’s good for us. The trend is going up. In fact, we are building more rooms this year. We are building at least 114 first and maybe (total of) 200 more rooms,” said Darvin Chia, General Manager of Crown Regency Hotels and Resorts.
Last year, Boracay was named the best island in the world by Conde Naste Traveller, beating other Philippine beach destinations such as Palawan and Cebu. With this image boost, Kalia is confident his agents could better sell the Philippines to British holidaymakers.
“The key selling point I believe is the city, Manila, which has a lot of history, and you have the islands. Obviously, Philippines is famous for its 7,000 plus islands, and Boracay has been a great experience, where you have an island atmosphere,” said Kalia.
He added: “It was a great experience. You wouldn’t really do that with Thailand and other competitive countries, where you soak up the sun and have value for money.”
The travel executives who came to see Boracay and experienced the hospitality of the locals are impressed.
“It's the sea, it's the culture, it's the history. It's a beautiful place. I would recommend it to my friends,” said Uzma Adil, Sales and Markeing executive of Turkish Airlines.
Many of them also agree that the country’s tourism will not be a casualty of the president’s war on drugs.