Time tends to stay still in this tropical marine paradise where one of the smallest Olive Ridley Turtles nests in magical Satelmo Cove. Surrounded by the beautiful South-China Sea scenery you could spend the whole day in the crystal-clear waters on this idyllic private beach. This secret cove is located only five minutes away by speedboat from Pico de Loro Cove located at Hamilton Coast, Nasugbu in the Southern Luzon region of the Philippines. Luzon is one of the largest of the Philippines 7,641 islands, only 2,000 of which are inhabited. The Philippines is one of the world's largest archipelagic countries situated in Southeast Asia with a population close to 108 million people. It is the twelfth most populous country in the world. The Philippines has the third largest group of English speakers in the world, English being the second official language after Filipino, based on the Tagalog language. There are 185 languages and dialects spoken in the linguistically diverse country.
June 12th is the Philippines Independence Day. On June 12, 1898 Filipino revolutionary forces under General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the sovereignty and independence of the Philippine islands from the Spanish colonial rule. June 12th is the national holiday in the Philippines and on this day Filipinos from all over the world join in the fun and celebrate together. This is a very special holiday that ties Filipinos to their homeland, history, traditions and culture. More than 10 million Filipinos live abroad in over 100 countries and they are very loyal to their families and homeland. Close to one million Filipinos live in Canada.
According to the U.K. based Oxford Economics, the Philippines will be the second fastest growing emerging market over the next decade thanks to its expanding skilled labour force. Oxford Economics February 15th report projects that the Philippines gross domestic product (GDP) will grow by an average 5.3 percent between 2019 and 2028. In 2019 economic growth is expected to be 6 percent. The Philippines is on the way to becoming a real Asian success story. The country continues to improve and push ahead of others in the region. It also has the big advantage of a low foreign debt obligation. Remittances from Filipinos living abroad strongly support the economy and the currency, amounting close to 10 per cent of GDP. These remittances along with the flourishing tourism industry have helped to maintain a budget surplus.
Tourism is one of the driving forces of the country's healthy economy. Tourism was 12.7 percent of the economy in 2018. Up to 8.2 million tourists are expected to visit the Philippines in 2019, up from more than 7.1 million tourists in 2018 of which 226,000 came from Canada.
The growth of tourism in the Philippines is supported by new construction of modern hotels and increasing international airline traffic into the country. Ongoing improvements towards the country's transportation infrastructure are also taking place with great effect.
In 2012 the Department of Tourism launched a tourism marketing campaign both locally and globally titled "It's More Fun in the Philippines.” According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), based in United Kingdom, the Philippines ranks 13th among the world's top fifteen travel and tourism destinations out of 185 countries. There was a 7.5 percent increase in tourist arrivals to the Philippines in the first quarter of 2019 over 2018, including 72,352 Canadian tourists visiting the Philippines in the first quarter of 2019. The objective of the Philippines Department of Tourism is to establish the Philippines as a "quality destination" in the region.
Alejandra Clemente, Chair of Rajah Tours International Inc., is one of the architects of the country's hospitality trade. Her whole life's work and vision has been highly valued in the industry, and she is admired as the "Face of Philippines tourism.” The Clemente family is a pillar of the country's tourism industry. Alejandra Clemente and her whole family have shaped Filipino tourism with their passion for perfection and professionalism.
Clemente and her son Jojo, Chair of Rajah Tours Philippines Inc. organised Winter Escapade 6 for more than 241 Canadian and American delegates. People from as far as the United Kingdom and South Africa joined the tour that took place from January 28th to February 4th this year. Since the first Winter Escapade in 2014, this popular annual tour has brought more than 2,200 visitors to the Philippines. The success of this year's tour is due to the teamwork between the Philippine Embassy in Canada, the Philippine Department of Tourism, the Tourism Promotions Board of Philippines, the local governments of Nasugbu, Batangas and El Nido, Palawan and Rajah Tours Philippines, Inc.
In 2019 the Philippines "More Fun" branding was refreshed and the slogan is focusing now on sustainable tourism. The Department of Tourism stated that the country will be marketed from now on as "one of the premiere sustainable tourism destinations.” It is still "More Fun" in the Philippines, but only if the tourism is sustainable.
The first part of the Winter Escapade 6 tour took the participants to one of the oldest towns in the country, the heritage town of Taal in Batangas Province, famous for keeping its history alive and home to the biggest Catholic Church in Asia, the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours, built in 1865. This ancient prominent church is simply known as Taal Basilica. Most of the population of the country, 92 percent, are Christians of whom 81 percent are Roman Catholic. One of the highlights of visiting Batangas was an opportunity to meet Governor Hermilando "Dodo" Mandanas, who hosted several cultural performances at the Escuela Pia heritage centre and a lunch at Taal's Bistro.
The second part of the tour took participants to the north of Palawan province, El Nido. As many travellers have said, this spectacular place is as close to paradise as you will find on the planet. We discovered this firsthand. It took us only an hour and half by plane from Manila to arrive at El Nido, where the fairy tale began. We could not stop admiring the endless blue sky, the pure white sand beaches, the turquoise water and the small islands with the mysterious limestone landscapes visible in the distance. The island-hopping tours next day took us closer to the peaceful beauty of the Bacuit archipelago beaches, coral reefs, intimate coves and exotic lagoons. We knew when we were kayaking in the Big Lagoon that we touched the Nation's precious jewels and that we were truly privileged to be here.
There are restricted number of boats and passengers permitted to go out on daily sightseeing tours out of Bacuit Bay. Fewer tourists mean less environmental damage to this unique tropical oasis. Since last year the municipality of El Nido on the island of Palawan has made many changes to its regulations. Going plastic-free was one of them, so do not be surprised that when you arrive at your beautiful hotel room you will find glass bottles filled with refreshing filtered cold water waiting for you, but no plastic bottles or straws. All single use disposable plastics are banned from all boat and island tours according to law since September 2018.
This simple law of limiting the use of plastic is creating a big change in this beautiful environment. The Philippines is considered one of the seventeen megadiverse countries in the world. It is a country that has 52,177 of earth's species, of which more than half are found nowhere else in the world.
Philippine Airlines (PAL) is the flag carrier of the Philippines and has 58 international destinations to 33 countries. PAL has nonstop service from Toronto and Vancouver to Manila. On June 17th the Philippines flag carrier was ranked #1 in this year's World's Most Improved Airlines list, receiving the award from the U.K. based airline rating consultancy Skytrax at the Paris Air Show in June. PAL is now ranked 30th out of 100 airlines from all over the world. It is a remarkable achievement and a 19-spot jump from last year. The food and service on PAL flights are well known for high quality and the airline aims to receive a 5-star rating from transport rater Skytrax by 2020. The new airline chief Vivienne K. Tan was appointed as PAL's officer-in-charge at the end of June.
"Its More Fun in the Philippines" say tourist brochures, and having been there I can attest how true it is. Our Winter Escapade 6 vacation tour was a wonder of sights, sounds, tastes and fun, of incredibly beautiful nature and warm and welcoming people. Getting there and back on PAL was as much a part of the enjoyment as being there. I can’t wait to go back.
PHOTOS by Ülle Baum ©2019