Envoys wooing ‘vips’ to come home, tour islands

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By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo / Special to the BusinessMirror

THE Philippines is relaunching a foreign visitor program in cooperation with Philippine diplomats in the United States and Hawaii.

Rajah Tours Philippines President Jose C. Clemente III told the BusinessMirror, after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the former Ambassadors and Consuls General Tour has been relaunched as the Very Important Pinoy (VIP) Tour, and will be held from July 16 to 24 this year.

“Now that the Philippines has fully reopened to international travelers, we hope to attract at least 300 Filipinos residing in the United States and their family members and friends to visit the country. Or, if they have visited before, explore our other unique and exciting destinations,” he said.

With the theme, “See, Taste, and Feel,” the VIP Tour offers balikbayans (homecoming Filipinos) not just a trip around Manila, but to Iloilo and Boracay Island as well. The tour will also feature a visit to Malacañang, and a possible audience with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

6K participants since 2005

The annual tours have been a project by Rajah Tours for the Department of Foreign Affairs, in cooperation with the Department of Tourism since 2005. According to Clemente, the program been able to bring in “an estimated 6,000 participants, since we started. Not only have balikbayans joined the tours, but a number of mainstream Americans have participated as well.”

He added, they are now targeting the third- to fifth-generation Filipino-Americans, “so we have post-tours for the younger crowd” to Leyte, Camiguin, Palawan, Laoag, and Cebu/Bohol.

Clemente, who is still in the US drumming up interest in the VIP Tour, said he was encouraged by the “enthusiastic response” of the stateside travel agencies and the “admirable cooperation” of the Filipino consuls general in several cities he has already visited. “Maraming excited for the program (There are many excited for the program). Kasi nga naman, nawala kami for two years (It’s because we were  gone for two years). And now everyone is ready to come home and visit,” he noted.

Of the 2.65 million foreign tourists who visited the Philippines from February 10 to December 31 last year, 628,445 were overseas Filipinos.

2022 arrivals impact: 5.2M jobs

Meanwhile, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco expressed her appreciation to the country’s travel agents for helping the Philippines breach arrival targets last year. “We would not have been able to breach our targets last year had it not been for your partnership and collaboration. Last year we set a target under the DOT of 1.7 million international arrivals. We breached that by almost a million having reached 2.65 million international arrivals, over 75 percent of which constitute international travelers. What does that tell us? It tells us that the Philippines continues to be a top-of-mind destination all over the world and that our travel agencies are hard at work in bringing international travelers into the Philippines and ushering in domestic travelers across our country.”

Speaking at the induction ceremony for the new officers of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association on January 19, the DOT chief added, “over 5.2 million tourism jobs across our 16 regions” have been able to benefit from the recovery of the tourism industry. “There really is no other industry that has had such a great economic trickle-down impact down [on] the grassroots and therefore the success of the tourism industry is our country’s success,” she stressed.

The DOT targets the arrival of 4.8 million foreign tourists this year. Prior to the pandemic, 8.26 million international travelers visited the Philippines.