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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Lack of ‘realistic’ info about PHL remains a challenge to attracting Spanish-speaking tourists

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THE Philippines continues to be a desired leisure destination among Europeans, especially the Spaniards, but more realistic information about the country needs to be disseminated to them.

Jon Zuluaga, director for Business Development of Intas Destination Management Inc., who recently attended the International Tourism Fair (Fitur) 2023 in Madrid told the BusinessMirror, “The interest in the Philippines is quite high in Spain [and the Spanish-speaking market], since they’re looking for the next ‘exotic’ destination that isn’t Thailand…. [But the] main challenges are a general lack of information about the country, and the logistics behind moving around.” Honeymooners were usually the keenest of visitors to the country, he said.

He added, “The interest is driven mainly by social media, which rarely gives the full story behind the destinations, just the ‘greatest hits’ or ‘glamour shots.’ So when you explain the finer details of travel in the Philippines [e.g. flights, seasons, prices]… it’s a bit of a reality check. For one, they have an expectation that the Philippines is ‘cheap,’ when we’re not that cheap compared to our Asean neighbors.”

Fitur Madrid was the first international travel trade show attended by Intas—one of the country’s leading destination management companies—since the pandemic. Zuluaga said the Fitur buyers were highly interested in El Nido “which they tend to confuse with Palawan,” Bohol and Siargao.

Lack of Spanish-speaking tour guides

Spain is considered a developing market by the Department of Tourism (DOT), with tourists to the Philippines having reached almost 20,000 last year, although this was still 60 percent less than the 50,000 who arrived in 2019, prior to the pandemic.

Previous DOT surveys also identified the lack of information about the Philippines as a major barrier for Spaniards to traveling to the country. Those who have visited the Philippines cited the “beautiful landscape and beaches” among the reasons they enjoyed their trip.

According to DOT data, there were also over 8,000 visitors from Portugal, and close to 25,000 tourists from Iberico-American markets such as Mexico and South America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela) in 2019.

Another barrier to traveling to the Philippines, noted Zuluaga, is the weather, as Spaniards usually travel between June and October, the monsoon/typhoon season. “So sometimes the conversations get awkward when they insist they want to visit El Nido or Coron in September. Even though there are places you can travel all year round, they want to visit the places in their social media feeds,” he noted.

There’s also a language barrier, and he pointed to the lack of Spanish-speaking tour guides as “an impediment” to attracting more Spaniards to visit the Philippines. “But there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of ‘educating’ the market [not just the travelers, but the travel agents, too] so that expectations are properly managed,” he stressed.

‘Fruitful biz engagements’

For his part, Tourism Attaché Gerard Panga for the United Kingdom, whose office also oversees Spain and other European nations, confirmed the Philippines’ “successful [showing] on all fronts” Fitur Madrid, “and based on verbal feedback, the private sector delegates had  fruitful business engagements [with foreign buyers].” The foreign tour operators and consumers inquired about Palawan, Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, Siargao, Cordilleras and Calabarzon, along with Central Luzon, Bicol, Iloilo/Negros, and Siquijor.

He predicted a further increase in Spanish and European outbound travel to the Philippines during the winter season: “They travel to our country to enjoy our tropical islands for sun-sea holidays, and the warmth and hospitality of our Filipino people.”

The buyers at Fitur prefer “beach holidays or island and beach activities, soft adventure, cultural immersion, outdoors/nature trips, visits to friends and relatives, and responsible travel, i.e., sustainability and empowerment of local community,” he noted.

Others in the Philippine delegation included: El Nido Resorts, Annset Holidays, Baron Travel, Travelexperts and Travelite, with co-exhibitors Cathay Pacifica as partner airline, Megaworld Corp., and Philippines specialist agents Viatges Traveljess and Kara Tours, both from Spain.

Fitur Madrid 2023, held from January 18 to 22, is one of the most important travel trade fairs in the world attended by European, Spanish, Portuguese, and Iberico-American travel firms. Asia-Pacific participation grew 163 percent this year.

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