MANILA, December 9, 2005 (STAR) KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson - Not only is Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano young and good-looking, he’s also delightfully personable. His version of a charm offensive may be part of the savvy and inherent energy he brings to his job. But there’s an earnestness that can’t be denied, and he’s obviously honed his craft in the manners department, so that everyone wants to lend the charming young man a hand.

The Fourth Philippine Hotels & Resorts Roadshow conducted in South Korea from Nov. 21 to 25 was tailor-made for the affable Tourism honcho. When he first spoke to the press in Seoul, barely hours after his arrival to spearhead the promotional and marketing tour, Durano cheerily allowed for in-depth informational and social engagement.

He had just jetted from East to West and back, attending a confab in London, gracing another event in Shanghai, returning home for a night before taking off again for the South Korean capital. But for the new Ace up our tourism sleeve, youth isn’t wasted on the young. He is up to the task, no airs about him, just bright eyes and a bright head reaching out to all comers, all commerce.

"Anyong haseyo," he greets the host media as he steps up to the rostrum. "A very pleasant good morning to you, ladies and gentlemen."

He looks around and flashes that killer boy-next-door smile before launching into a teaser of a spiel, reserving the full address for the target country’s travel operators. One senses that his remarks are also meant to impress good intentions on all the members of the large delegation of travel property bigwigs who have come along to make their own pitch to a sunrise market.

"The cold breeze of winter is always a gentle reminder that the year is coming to a close. It is also the time of the year when we reflect on the outcome of our accomplishments for the year.

"I bring with me good news that Korea has dislodged the Japanese market and is now our second largest source of tourism traffic, posting a record arrival of 349,093 visitors for the first three quarters, which translates to 18.3 percent market share and a 28 percent growth rate against the record arrivals during the same period in 2004," he says.

No wonder, then, the sustained push for more growth for Korean arrival numbers for Manila and beyond. Since early this year, the Tourism department has been reaping awards from Korea’s major travel fairs. The DOT won the Best Booth Design and Best Country Performance awards in the 18th Korean World Travel Fair last March.

Subsequent months saw DOT-Team Korea, under Maricon Basco Ebron, bagging the Best Promotion Award at the Tour Expo Daegu 2005, and the Best Booth Design, Best Booth Operations and Best Folklore Performance awards at the Busan International Travel Fair. Last June saw the largest Philippine delegation attending the KOFTA, an important Korean travel and trade fair.

Pleased with these results, Secretary Durano pledged further investment in promotions and participation in consumer events in Korea to ensure continued Philippine presence.

In addition to tourism campaigns targeting Korean holiday seekers, honeymooners, students, and special interest groups such as divers and golfers, he also announced a fresh bid to capture the attention of festival enthusiasts and organizers of meetings, incentive travels, conventions and exhibitions, or MICE.

"The Philippines is also a very ideal MICE destination," he stresses before the media, "for our cities, which are home to some of the world’s finest hotels and convention centers, are almost always only two hours away from our best dive spots and beach resorts."

He then zeroes in on other special attractions. Starting Dec. 10, for instance, Metro Manila will host the largest gathering of local and Korean inline skaters, as the DOT and the Korea Extreme Sports Association (KESA) jointly stage the 2005 Philippine International Inline Marathon.

"It is the first time that this kind of sports competition will be held in our country, and also the first time that KESA is holding the race outside Korea. We expect as many as 300 Korean participants."

Again the youth factor comes into, uh, play, as the Secretary quips, "Since I can rollerblade myself, I’ve committed to participate in the race."

Questions from the Korean media are fielded with a combination of jauntiness and smarts bespeaking personal experience.

Asked if there’s any difference between spas in Korea and in the Philippines, Ace Durano relates how he had recently tried out the Pinatubo Spa Town and found it a distinctive experience. He shares the recollection of being covered with sulfur ash. He also cites the hilot as another special feature of some Philippine spas, as well as the use of virgin coconut oil. He quickly adds that his country happens to be the top producer of this oil that has a special healing quality.

"I tell you, it’s an overall unique experience when it comes to a Philippine vacation," he sums up. "And you can ask the experts here with us. They’d be happy to provide all the features of their respective properties."

The delegation includes over a score of hotel/resort operators, who all take turns conducting presentations later in the day, after welcome and opening remarks by Kim Ki Tae, DOT’s chief partner for Team Korea, and Secretary Durano’s own formal presentation on the status of Philippine tourism, titled "Marketing Directions."

Representing Luzon are Diamond Hotel Philippines, Makati Shangri-La Manila, Westin Philippine Plaza, Club Paradise, El Rio y Mar, Dos Palmas Arrecefi Island Resort, and El Nido Resorts, for Manila and Palawan.

The Visayas are represented by Alegre Beach Resort, Badian Island Resort, Hilton Cebu Resort & Spa, Maribago Bluewater Beach Resort, Sumilon Bluewater Beach Resort, Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort & Spa, Bohol Beach Club, Philippine Island Divers (of Alona Beach in Bohol), Boracay Regency Beach Resort, and Patio Pacific Boracay.

The Marco Polo Davao and Pearl Farm Beach Resort showcase Mindanao, while Southeast Asian Airlines or SEAIR and Pinatubo Spa Town (Pinatubo Development Corporation) round up the individual presentations, which attract a full hall of some 300 Korean travel agents.

Lucky participants win a draw and receive air tickets from Philippine Airlines and a free stay at some choice Philippine resorts. One-on-one tabletop discussions then ensue between the property representatives and the Korean travel operators.

This scene is repeated in Busan a few days later, albeit without Secretary Durano, who has to return to Manila for the SEA Games. Ebron, who has also recently opened a DOT-Team Korea office at President Hotel in Seoul, proxies for the Secretary and delivers his come-on speech.

But on the night before the delegation’s departure for Busan, after the whole-day activities conducted at Lotte Hotel in Seoul, Ace Durano makes sure to spearhead the celebration over the roadshow’s evident success.

At the Mad Dog Restaurant overlooking the grand rotunda where the City Hall and Deoksugung Palace are but a pair of spokes in the downtown hub, the roadshow participants commune in high spirits with their Korean counterparts. And beer-ing it along at one table is the youthful DOT boss, pouring the brew from extra-large see-through pitchers into any mug that’s half-empty, and leading the toasts to the warm-hearted Philippine-Korean engagement.

Telenovelas, particularly the Winter Sonata set that’s been turned into a top tourist destination off Seoul, the quality of the sausages and crispy chicken as platterfuls of finger-food on our heavy wooden tables, and the striking degree of fashionista concupiscence manifested by Korean lady shoppers at the high-end Lotte Department Store, are among the topics bandied about in our group.

Until Ace Durano comes around and plies everyone for another toast, this time with wineglass in hand. And congratulations fly to the clinking of mugs and glasses, led by the fellow who rolled up his sleeves that night, and exposed more of the ace we have come to recognize and appreciate.

"Kamsa hamnida!" the Secretary thanks everyone. "Thank you all. We continue to count on your support."

You have it, Sir Ace.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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