, DECEMBER 16, 2006 (STAR) KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson - Tourism Undersecretary Edu Jarque had reason to be elated during the four-day travel mart experience in the world’s largest and most populous city.

In fact, he had twin reasons. He received a couple of award plaques on behalf of the Philippines, which was rated among the Top 10 rising travel destinations for the burgeoning Chinese market, and also among the Top 10 for MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) destinations.

The awards were a highlight of the Philippine participation in the recent 2006 China International Travel Mart, which was conducted in three cavernous pavilions of the Shanghai New International Expo Center at the Pudong New Area. The largest international travel trade fair held in China, it is interchanged annually between Kunming and Shanghai, and is regarded as one of the most important international trade exhibitions in the Asia-Pacific region.

The total area devoted to the event nearly reached 60,000 square meters this year, up by 20 percent over last year’s when over 3,000 domestic and overseas exhibitors were featured, with about 1,200 overseas buyers in attendance. The 2006 edition also expected to have a 20-percent increase in the number of visitors.

The Philippines booth, featuring a nipa-roofed stand and large photo backdrops showing an alluring white-sand beach scene and a PAL plane aloft in blue skies, easily outshone the neighboring booths of Malaysia and Thailand. An added feature was the fetching dance presentations by the Sindaw troupe from Mindanao, which never failed to draw milling visitors who’d jostle for photo ops, so that the security staff had to rush in to shepherd the ogling crowd.

The Philippine participation, which drew over a score of Filipino travel entities, started with a pre-mart Travel Exchange and Conference on Nov. 15 at the Majestic Ballroom of Hotel Sofitel Hyland on busy Nanjing Road, a Shanghai landmark – long stretches of which have been converted into a purely pedestrian avenue.

As an aside, it was nearly a full two decades ago that we traipsed down this heavily commercial artery, with fellow poets and writers Ricky de Ungria, Butch Dalisay, Eric Gamalinda and Fatima Lim (now Wilson) on an exchange visit hosted by the Chinese Writers Union. We couldn’t believe then how such teeming millions could inhabit a city, with seemingly half of them trudging down and pushing us along Nanjing Road towards The Bund by the Huangpo or Yellow River.

That time, hardly anything could be seen of Pudong across the river but vast rice lands and a few factory buildings. Now, the view from across The Bund is as fabled as a futuristic movie, with fancy shapes of spires and high-rises, including the studded sphere of a communications tower that has become the symbol of revitalized Shanghai.

At the ballroom that served as the initial venue for Philippine travel reps to meet up with their counterparts, the usual configuration of long tables was set in place, offering brochures, info kits, and laptop screens displaying our latest attractions and packages.

Familiar faces hove into view, of friends we had shared fam-tour experiences with, in Bali, Seoul, and elsewhere these past few years. Whenever they found a break in the otherwise constant parade of Chinese travel agents calling on their tables, they would bound up and exchange high fives and reminiscences, in bonding salutations among "old Asia hands."

Such was the case with Mia Mancio of SEAIR, Isabel Garcia of Boracay Regency Beach Resort & Convention Center, and Leo Picazo of Best Cruises ‘N’ Resorts, with the last enthusiastically regaling us with glowing reports on yet another sunrise facet of our tourism industry.

"Medical tourism is going really big," our peripatetic friend Leo said with characteristic energy.

"But I read somewhere that we’ve been beaten to the punch by Thailand, Malaysia and India in that department," we countered.

"Not quite," Leo said. "Or it doesn’t matter, as there’s so much room left over, and it’s a boundless market. We have much to offer, at better than competitive rates."

True enough, after Mr. Picazo introed us to Dennis Javellana, president of Lacturan Travel, we noted how their table was deluged by the minute with inquiries from curious parties, who all received info sheets announcing "Medical Tours" inclusive of a "Beauty Package" and "Cosmetic Surgery by Beverly Hills 6750." A choice was offered for accommodations: Manila Hotel, Hotel Intercontinental, Discovery Suites and Linden Suites.

Hmm. So a moneyed Westerner, long in the tooth and not necessarily beset with aches and pains, rather by increasing vanity concerns, can actually select from Manila by the bay, the Makati financial district, or the Ortigas Center for his/her morning and evening perambulations, which may bookend a day of "Deluxe" treatment for a range of facial enhancements, from "Alar Plasty (Nose Surgery)" to "Lips Augmentation with Autogenous Fat."

"Very interesting," we told Leo, who soon made light of a popular plastic surgeon based in Quezon City. Our grinning assent was rewarded with more introductions, this time to the very young and dapper Stevie Tajanlangit III of Boracay Terraces Resort, Samuel Gacos of Hilton Cebu Resort & Spa, and Desiree de Guzman of Verde Island Resort off Batangas.

Travel industry experts are fun to be with. Not only do they ceaselessly invite you to try out their offerings and facilities; the briefest of conversations with any of these marketers of our country’s delights convince you that they’re earnestly upbeat about what they’re selling. Too, we can only suppose that optimism and ebullience are but essential characteristics of this perennially bright and cheery bunch. They’re at home with the rest of the world, and travel exchanges or fairs abroad are as much their cup of tea as a lark of a walk to a local convenience store.

This outlook rubs off easily on their counterparts in the region. We’ve seen it work wonders in other cities of Asia, where foreign travel operators are virtually mesmerized by the gung-ho camaraderie, inclusive of boisterous laughter, exhibited by our country’s best-foot-forward xenagogues, so much so that they’re often mistaken to be part of the attendant entertainment troupe.

In Shanghai it was no different. Beside showy tarpaulins proclaiming the wonders of Bohol, Boracay and, indeed, our generic Wow Philippines, the Chinese tour operators huddled with apparently refreshed demeanor, which of course allowed them to be carried onto the next plane of Pinoy seduction: attempting to dance the tinikling onstage.

Over a convivial dinner at an adjacent ballroom, the guests in their own country came away with several raffle prizes drawn by our Consul General in Shanghai, Ambassador Jesus Yabes, as well as Negros Oriental Governor George Arnaiz and Undersecretary Jarque. These included a freebie weekend for two in Bohol.

Ambassador Yabes, whom we last saw some years ago in Singapore at the launch of a bilateral poetry anthology, must be doing such a fine job in Shanghai that he’s been asked to stay on for over three years running. He said in his brief remarks that the Philippines welcomed only about 35,000 Chinese mainlanders in 2004, but that this number grew to 100,000 in 2005, and is projected to hit over 130,000 by yearend of 2006. The target for, say, 2010, he quipped, is well-nigh unimaginable.

For his part, Governor Arnaiz came prepared with an AVP on our adopted province’s familiar attractions – from Casaroro Falls to Lake Balinsasayao, Bais Bay’s dolphins to Malatapay’s seaside market and Apo Island as diving haven – which played several times onscreen during the dinner. Accompanied by his Sangguniang Panlalawigan board members Erwin Michael Macias and Roel Degamo, he was set to proceed to Beijing for another roadshow component.

In his own welcome remarks, Undersecretary Jarque correlated the upswing in the figures cited by Ambassador Yabes with the annual Travel Exchange effort conducted in Shanghai, and which is now on its third year. He was particularly appreciative of the twin awards given the Philippines, which were based on a recent national survey among Chinese outbound tourists.

"These recognitions," Undersecretary Jarque said, "have lifted our spirits and enthusiasm to even work harder in coming up with tour programs attuned to the preferences and needs of your clients. It likewise motivated our China Team to pursue greater partnership with both the Chinese travel trade and media to propel and sustain the momentum of growth in tourist arrivals."

Indeed, for the next three days of the international travel mart, the Philippines booth was swamped with callers, causing everyone in the lean DOT contingent to imagine how their offices in Beijing and Guangzhou, apart from Shanghai, would have to cope with so much more work in the aftermath of the travel exchange and mart participation.

On those three days, too, Undersecretary Jarque and Director Rolando Canizal met with the vice chairman of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), and officials of the Shanghai China Travel Service (CTS) and Shanghai China International Travel Service (CITS).

At a laureate dinner held at the fine-dining restaurant Xian Qiang Tang, located on the top floor of an historic, wonderfully art-deco-appointed building that served as a department store for Europeans in the early days of The Bund, the Philippine delegation had cause to raise Shanghai History rice wine and Tsingtao beer glasses to toast one another a hearty Kempei! and an even heartier Mabuhay!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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