, APRIL 26, 2007 (STAR) By Igan D’bayan - A Swedish travel official was all smiles. Börje Lund, treasurer of the Sweden chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), said that usually in travel shows the organizers need to raffle off trips to make guests happy, but not in the case of the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) sales mission held in one of the ballrooms of the Birger Jarl Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Philippine delegation — composed of DOT officials, major travel agents and tour operators — was able to meet its goals with the support of the Philippine Embassy to Sweden at last month’s Philippine Table Top Exhibition and Travel Mart in the Swedish capital, a follow-up activity to DOT’s equally successful participation at the Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB) in Berlin, Germany.

The DOT invited the Philippine STAR to cover the Swedish travel mart where representatives from the Tourism Department, Baron Travel, Intas Destination, Marsman Drysdale Travel, El Nido Resorts, Microtel Inns & Suites, and various travel agencies met up with their European counterparts and made the pitch of adding the Philippines in their tour itineraries.

That morning, the Philippine delegation headed by DOT Undersecretary Oscar Palabyab (together with DOT London office attaché Domingo "Chicoy" Enerio; DOT Team Europe tourism, planning and promotions head Verna Buensuceso; and DOT regional director Louella Jurilla) attended a presentation at the Philippine Embassy to Sweden presided over by Ambassador Victoria Bataclan.

The ambassador briefed the delegates about the Swedish/Scandinavian travel market. She said Swedes travel for a variety of reasons aside from visiting friends and relatives (12.5 million trips were registered in 2005): to discover new countries and cultures, and to get a dose of sun and beach — an experience that is rarely had by Swedes who have to endure one of the bleakest and longest winters in Europe.

Asia Pacific travel takes up four percent of the total outbound Nordic market, and Thailand takes up a huge chunk of it. That’s why the DOT dovetailed its ITB efforts with a sales mission to Stockholm, to tap a potentially large market. But, according to Ambassador Bataclan, our country is slowly and surely making headway, taking up Swedish headspace.

"We were recently featured in Metro (one of the biggest publications in Sweden) by one of the reporters who went to Boracay," she enthused. "According to the reporter, the only problem with going to Boracay is you don’t want to leave (laughs). There was even a (European) biker who went biking in some parts of Mindanao."

Enerio said 33,000 tourists from the Nordics visit the Philippines yearly. "Now, that is more than what other countries in the region, which are also actively promoting tourism, get. That’s why the visit by the Philippine delegation to Sweden is very important because there is a lot to be gained from this particular market, as well as in Norway, Denmark and Finland."

Bataclan profiled the Nordic travelers. They comprise of youths aged 18 to 24, "DINKs" (or double income no kids), empty nesters, conference and incentive travelers, and VFR (visiting friends and relatives). She said, "The ‘YIPs,’ or the young independent professionals, are attracted to fun destinations that offer unique cultures and lifestyles, as well as beach resorts and entertainment. While the DINKs, who may be up to 55 years old with higher disposable income, go for destinations with rich history and culture, with special events and high-quality entertainment thrown in."

And everyone concurred that our country is more than capable of providing all those.

She also mentioned about the "Thriving Grays." These are 60-or-above, newly retired, wealthy pensioners who go for long-haul holidays. "The YIPs and the DINKs go for eco-tourism as well as diving, diving, diving," she said. "While the Thriving Grays prefer medical tourism and wellness programs, and not just eco-tourism packages. Europeans know how Filipinos (in the healthcare and wellness professions) provide ‘TLC’ Even the president of Austria acknowledged this." Another area that our country should focus on is golf, since there are 500,000 registered golfers in Sweden. It would be ideal to attract these golfers during the season when their greens turn into white.

During the presentations, several recommendations were arrived at on how the Philippines could increase its presence as a prime tourist destination.

"One of them is to launch a Nordic website," the ambassador suggested. "There are a lot of Filipinos here that can speak the language. It will be a labor of love for them (to help us in this regard). We should also organize road shows in the Nordics — I mean all five countries. And in the absence of direct flights, negotiate the best rates with airlines such as KLM, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific and Malaysian Airlines."

A side note: Ambassador Bataclan was such a gracious host. She organized a sightseeing boat cruise for the Filipino delegates who were able to view Gamla Stan, Europe’s largest and best-preserved medieval city, as well as a trip to the Ice Bar for some sub-zero vodka. Dinner and a karaoke session were held in the ambassador’s residence. Undersecretary Palabyab did a duet with DOT’s Verna Buensuceso, while Chicoy Enerio did renditions of Paul Anka songs. He even did Stairway to Heaven.

At the travel mart that evening, London-based theater luminaries Monique Wilson and Junix Inocian performed tunes from Miss Saigon, The Phantom of the Opera and The Sound of Music.

Junix was happy to report he’s getting all types of roles in London. The actor was recently cast as a Japanese ex-sumo wrestler running a gay bar in Amsterdam or some other city, but Junix is never to back down from any challenge. Monique is currently teaching an acting course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, quite an achievement for one of our country’s best actresses.

Monique sang Freddie Aguilar’s Anak and George Canseco’s Ikaw. Some of the Swedes were left teary-eyed and wordless even if the Filipino lyrics sounded like aural hieroglyphics to them. That just shows the ability of great singers like Monique and Junix: the power to communicate beyond words.

Another great communicator was Undersecretary Palabyab, who delivered a sincere, extemporaneous speech before Swedish travel officials and agents, as well as tour operators.

"This is a renewal of vows of sorts as we celebrate the 60th year of friendship between Sweden and the Philippines," said Palabyab. He went on to detail how our country competes for attention in the travel and tourism arena.

"What we can offer to you Europeans is the sun — 365 days! And with typhoons as a rare treat. We have unadulterated local customs practiced even today by people from the Cordilleras and Muslim Mindanao. We know how Europeans love mountains. We have the Banawe Rice Terraces, which (unlike the other wondrous structures of the world) was constructed by a free people whose only desire was to feed their fellowmen."

Palabyab also said whatever Swedes want to see or experience as far as tourist destinations go, "our country has them." He added, "If you feel that we have neglected you guys (in terms of promotions or partnerships), tonight’s gathering renews and institutionalizes our friendship."

And for those Swedes who are daunted by the fact that there are no direct flights from Stockholm to Manila, prompting them to take a longer, more expensive route just to get to our shores, Palabyab had this to say: "A good place is never far."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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