MANILA, February 21, 2006 (STAR) By Lynette Lee Corporal - Her reply was brief but it described, in a nutshell, what the Philippines can offer to foreign visitors, women tourists in particular, that Filipinos usually take for granted. "While Japanese women and Filipino women share many characteristics, I think Filipino women are more open and seem to be happier," said Anne Watanabe, the Department of Tourismís ambassador of goodwill, brand endorser and "Premium Resort Islands Philippines" campaign spokesperson.

The DOT, led by Secretary Joseph Ace Durano, recently knocked on the doors of Japanese womenís hearts when it launched a new strategy dubbed "The Philippines: Wellness from the Inside Out" in Tokyo, Japan. This is part of the DOTís campaign to promote the Philippines as a health and wellness destination.

"The objective is to make the Japanese women, in their 20s to 50s, rise to the challenge of going to the Philippines to savor all those being enjoyed by their Filipino counterparts and other foreign visitors," said DOTís Team Japan head Rosvi Gaetos.

While the country enjoys a steady stream of Japanese visitors, most of whom are repeat visitors (engaged mainly in business and golf enthusiasts), the DOT sees that there is a need to increase the Japanese women arrivals in this tropical paradise. With the help of Delphys Inc., a Japanese PR agency the DOT has tapped to implement the marketing campaign in Japan, and the beauteous Anne (who, by the way, is the daughter of the popular actor Ken Watanabe of Last Samurai fame), the Philippines will once again be put on the map of the highly lucrative health tourism.

"From the 35 million women in Japan, there are about 7.2 million between 20 and 50 years of age who have abundant overseas travel experience. Of this number, about 5.4 million Japanese ladies actually traveled in 2004 to an overseas destination. And of the 5.4 million overseas lady travelers, less than two percent is estimated to have traveled to the Philippines," said Secretary Durano during the press launch at the Westin Tokyo attended by members of the Japanese and Philippine media.

You know what they say about the glass being half-full. Well, Durano and his Japan team are not about to be fazed by the meager number of Japanese ladiesí arrivals to the Philippines. He said that it was all a matter of introducing the best the Philippines can offer as far as wellness is concerned. "This challenge gives rise to an opportunity. These Ďnon-customersí translate to five to seven million Japanese lady travelers waiting to be tapped!" noted Durano.

In a survey Delphys Inc. conducted late last year, it was found that Japanese womenís awareness of the Philippines as a premium wellness destination significantly increased by 64.6 percent from 46.2 percent among twentysomething women; and by 58.5 percent from 35.4 percent among the thirtysomethings.

With Japanese women becoming more successful in their careers and getting more exposed to what the world has to offer, itís only natural that they would travel more and, ergo, spend more. They have developed a very sophisticated taste as far as traveling is concerned and would like to enjoy their vacations to the hilt. At the same time, with a lot of pressure for them to perform well in their professional and family lives, they are also becoming more stressed and are looking for relaxing breaks that would make them feel healthy and beautiful inside and out. This is exactly what the Philippines has in store for them.

For those who want to experience the luxury of "doing nothing," who want to get away from the pressures of daily deadlines and appointments, there are the countryís world-class resorts found in Cebu, Boracay, Palawan and Bohol, to name a few. Japanese women can bask leisurely under the sun in pristine, white-sand beaches and marvel at the clearest star-studded evening sky, bask in the glow of a full moon, or feel the magic of seeing fireflies light up a dark night. Simple pleasures they donít really get in bustling Tokyo or other major cities in Japan.

For those who want to learn more about the Philippines, there are tour packages specifically made for them, which include a world heritage tour that allows them to visit historical sites in major cities in the country. They can opt to shop, try out native cuisine or just get to see how Filipinos have become well-known for their hospitality and pleasant smiles.

The more adventurous ones could emulate Anne who, during her stay here, promptly donned her dive suit and gear to explore the rich underwater world that divers worldwide only have praises for. If not, there are a wide variety of water sports these women can try, from jet skiing to kayaking, to white water rafting and surfing. Definitely a welcome activity for Japanese women wanting to "thaw" in wintertime when Tokyo weather easily plummets to 0 degrees.

Meanwhile, for those who want to escape from the stress of the urban hustle and bustle and experience natural healing for their harried mind and body, the Philippines is the place to be when it comes to relaxing massages, as well as world-class spa and salon services.

According to Durano, what makes the Philippines different from the rest of the countries involved in health tourism is the caring nature of the Filipinos. "Thereís always the human touch, a personalized pampering from the therapist that comes out naturally. This gives us the edge that visitors donít easily forget," he says.

Japanese women with bodily aches and pains can also try our very own type of therapy, the hilot, which the DOT in cooperation with the Department of Health is trying to promote abroad. The hilot, used with virgin coconut oil, is making its presence felt in the international scene since the DOT started joining travel fairs and exhibitions, and began demonstrating how it helps a person achieve overall well-being and health.

According to the Delphys study, Japanese women know the Philippines for its famous Manila Bay sunset and its picture-perfect resorts. They also agree that Filipinos, in general, are a friendly lot. They also equate Cebu with the sea, classy resorts, and water sports. The challenge now for DOT is to inform potential women visitors that thereís a whole lot more to the Philippines than the sea, sunset and resorts, and yes, that itís safe for them to travel here.

As for older women, a study shows that there are around 20 million Japanese belonging to the baby boom generation, or those born between 1947 to 1949, who are now ready to retire and are raring to travel to places where they can relax, be at one with nature, and just allow them to contemplate on their existence in this world. The Philippines is a perfect place for this age group as well, but only if there is enough infrastructure and a variety of packages to offer them, which is what the country is preparing for. To help the DOT in attracting more Japanese tourists to the country, Philippine Airlines announced during the Tokyo presscon that PAL will soon be acquiring 18 Airbus A320 family aircraft, including two A319 aircraft. The A320s will have 12 Mabuhay (business) class and 144 economy class seats, while the A319s will have eight Mabuhay-class and 126 economy-class seats Ė all this come with the luxurious amenities that will make every Japanese visitorís travel as smooth as can be. PAL operates round-trip Tokyo-Manila flights seven days a week, Tokyo-Cebu six times a week, Osaka-Manila five times weekly, Fukuoka-Manila six times a week, and Nagoya-Manila four times a week.

Whether itís to have a day of pampering at a spa, or see a tarsier, or eat ube ice cream or five mangoes a day, Japanese women have a lot to look forward to when they decide that itís time to pack their bags and visit this little corner of paradise. And itís about time that they did.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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