MANILA, December 4, 2004 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - Many Filipinos are no longer dayuhan (strangers) in their sariling bayan (own land). Inbound tourism hit a homerun among domestic travelers, especially with former Tourism Secretary Richard Gordonís "More Than The Usual" and "WOW Philippines (Wealth of Wonders)" marketing pitch. The campaign was a smashing success simply because it delivers what it claims. The promotion heralds the country as an ideal holiday destination for international tourism.

With our over 7,000 irresistible reasons to island-hop and other eco-tourism adventures in the country, the WOW select consortium, led by Travel Edge, has come up with great travel deals that offer luxurious vacation packages in prime destinations using premium facilities and amenities at unbelievably reasonable rates. One can travel to a number of local destinations via WOW, select sweet deal promos and get upscale accommodations in Boracay, Palawan, Baguio, Bohol, Mindoro, Dumaguete, Cebu, Davao and more.

"These upgraded holiday packages make for truly compelling travel propositions, especially for local tourists, balikbayans, expats, families and honeymooners," said Travel Edge president Kelly Boncan. The sweet deal promo is a joint undertaking between the Department of Tourism and a consortium of travel agencies, including Orient Travel, Cencorp, Sharp Travel and Southeast Travel.

I recently availed of this sweet deal promo and headed to the Barcelo Pearl Farm in Davao City with my strong and bubbly octogenarian Papa Norm Turley, our stand-in father and friend from California.

The sun had just set when our Air Philippines flight landed at the ultra-modern Davao International Airport. In no time, we were ferried to our destination. A candlelit buffet by the infinity pool was waiting for us as we were welcomed by the resortís dashing general manager Juan Roca. In between bites of the freshest catch from the sea, we were serenaded under the full moon by the resort staff with their renditions of Tagalog, English and Spanish ballads. We dozed off to dreamland at the sunset suite that stood on stilts on the clearest water.

The sun rose early the next morning. I heard Papa Norm exclaiming, "Oh, wow wee! This is awesome." He stood by the verandah and sized up the surroundings Ė green mountains and azure waters. "I never realized this resort would reveal more of itself in the morning," he added, as he fed the colorful fish below him with breadcrumbs.

Just a short banca rise across the resort is Malipano Island where one can bask in the privacy of seven exclusive villas. Malipano Island is the perfect setting for that dream wedding. After a whole day of sightseeing and island hopping on Samal, we proceeded to the resortís Ylang-Ylang Spa. Our bodies were kneaded by the spaís masseuses.

The next day saw us rising to another beautiful day. We bid adieu to the staff at the Pearl Farm. It was a busy day for us as we moved back to the city.

Warm welcome also greeted us at the Marco Polo Hotel. The hotel, a favorite home-away-from-home among business and leisure travelers, has lovely rooms and suites opening to a view of Mount Apo, the tallest mountain in the country, and the mesmerizing vista of the Davao Gulf.

For Christmas and New Year, sales and marketing manager Art Boncato says the hotel will be celebrating with various food and beverage promotions.

Boncato says the Marco Polo now offers business travelerís and golf packages. Guests can enjoy a relaxing two-night stay at Marco Polo and three rounds of golf at the Rancho Palos Verdes, Davaoís premier all-weather, championship golf course designed by world-renowned designer Andy Dye.

A visit to Davao is not complete without a trip to the mountain resort, Eden Nature Park. Expect to be mesmerized here by the verdant foliage, from ornamental plants and to organically-grown gardens to fruit trees and hardwood.

The nature park, nestling on the upper slopes of the grand old Mount Talomo, with Mount Apo peeking behind it, is 2,500 feet above sea level. The view deck at the peak offers an unobstructed panorama of Davao City and Davao Gulf. The park is 95 percent manmade, proof that humans can recreate the paradise they are beginning to lose due to environmental degradation.

My group and I smiled like Leonardoís Mona Lisa as we enjoyed the pure unadulterated mountain and ocean breeze.

Leave no stone unturned as you experience local travel, not just as a real treat, but a real bargain thatís truly a sweet deal. Wow!

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For more information about WOW sweet deals, call 0917-8474560. Air Philippines flies to Davao daily. For reservations, call 855-9000.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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