, APRIL 29, 2007 (STAR) By Bea Ledesma - When it comes to chilling out the way pop stars do ó white sand beach, aqua waves and impeccably deep-fried munchies ó thereís no place like the Philippines. With 7,100 or so islands to choose from, itís a simple enough task to hook up with a travel agent and just mosey on down to the classiest shore.

Itís not quite so simple for non-English speaking tourists with more than half a dozen beach destinations to choose from. Which explains the Department of Tourismís (DOT) focus at the recently-held Guangzhou International Travel Fair and Philippine Travel Exchange.

The DOTís participation in annual travel fairs is one of the governmentís tactics to secure a larger influx of tourists, which accounts for a fair share of the countryís income. Guangzhou, originally Canton, one of the first sectors of China that was open to visitors, isnít as cosmopolitan as, say, Shanghai, but the number of visa applications from Guangzhou to the Philippines is a surprisingly staggering number: "Over 50 percent of visa applications come from Guangdong," explains Tourism Undersecretary Eduardo Jarque Jr. Overall, China ranks fourth highest in the Philippine tourism industry.

Surprising for a country still steeped in so many old world traditions. (Take, for example, Guangzhouís mall: not quite as well-stocked with establishments ranging from a dentistís office to mini plastic surgery joint like we have here.) But at the rate itís quickly progressing óand its denizens are quickly vacationing ó the Philippines is just about ready to position itself as the ultimate beach destination with one minor plus: great spas. OK, make that major.


With competition increasing daily for travel operators to bring their clients somewhere new and exciting, DOT decided to provide an outlet for package tours that allow tourists to enjoy the scenery while getting the full-on treatment by trained masseuses.

"Weíre introducing the concept of pampering," says Jarque. The DOTís marketing strategy is to sell the location ó and the services, a smart tactic particularly for consumers looking for a way to throw away some hard-earned yuan.

To tag-team potential tourists and travel operators, the DOT invited travel agencies to hawk locales and resorts with just the right theme.

Badian Island Resort & Spa, named one of the top 10 island spas in the world by Asia Spa magazine, was one of the participants. Located on the coast of southern Cebu, facing Badian Bay, the resort consists of villas spread throughout more than eight hectares of sand and palm tree-covered earth. The resortís major draw is its natural spa. According to Hartwig Scholz, chairman of the resort, the spa is an internationally-renowned wellness retreat that provides not only a lush getaway, but a haven of luxurious water therapy treatments.

Le Petite Paradis, a medical retreat and resort tucked away in the cooler altitude of Tagaytay, combines the exclusivity of a club (with its few villas) and the privacy and attention of a high-end medical establishment. "People can come here for a little nip and tuck," says Remedios Ramsay, the owner of the secluded resort. "We provide fine healthcare along with all the extras a spa can provide." On hand is the resortís in-house hilot, who treats patients according to Philippine tradition.

Josielyn Carel of La Petite Paradis was on location in Guangzhou to show event members one of the treatments native to the Philippines. Carelís technique involves sensing lamig, or pressure points referring to differing ailments in the body, and performing spot-targeted hilot on each point. Joseph Macaspac, from a Baguio resort, presented another form of therapeutic massage, one thatís more about relaxation and natural therapeutic movements.

Winning Them Over

Sarina Chang, owner of Jeron Travel & Tours, suggests more shopping options for the flurry of tourists looking for exotic purchases. "Most of the time, they just buy mangoes," she says with a laugh. Born in China but currently residing in the Philippines with her Filipino husband and kids, she knows what the tourists want, and itís something few handicraft shops are able to provide. "They want to buy something expensive," she explains. For many of the couples who come to the Philippines to honeymoon, many are looking to gift their spouses with an expensive trinket ó maybe jewelry or pricey accessories. While tourist-savvy retailers in traffic-heavy destinations like Bangkok have mastered the shop and tour (bringing tourist groups to large shopping jaunts in between cultural tours to sell native stingray purses or jewels), the Philippines has been lagging behind.

"Tourists donít know where to shop when they come to the Philippines," says Borfate Fung of Morning Star Holiday, a tour operator. He brings in about 600 to 700 Chinese tourists a month during peak season. "Maybe you need to put up foreigner-friendly signs pointing the way to shopping malls," he suggests.

"Weíre encouraging the local industries to provide more handicraft stores," says Martin Pan, DOT market representative. Based in Guangzhou, Pan understands that every traveler is fond of purchasing souvenirs. Providing more outlets for shopping in locations like Cebu and Bohol make for more satisfying trips.

"With Chinaís one-child policy, lots of people have a large portion of their disposable income to spend," says Jarque, "which makes these trips all the more important because they bring in funds from cash-rich tourists."

Making Their Mark

With only a two-hour plane ride separating Guangzhou from Manila, the potential for partnership looks promising. During the travel fair, Jarque signed agreements with China Southern Airline, which flies direct Guangzhou-Manila-Guangzhou trips on a regular basis, along with Nanhu Travel Agency, to bulk up the tourist influx.

Things Are Looking Up

By the end of the week, the Philippine booth garnered an award (Best Marketing Support) and more than a few callbacks from potential partnerships with travel operators. The point, it seems, is to keep a welcome arm out to our friends in China. "And to promote a positive image to tourists," adds Jarque. Easier said than done what with the constant political ramblings and botched hostage attempts. But with our clear blue waters and sandy white beaches beckoning, tourists canít help but be seduced. Add a couple of spa treatments and theyíre good to

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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