Philippines, ranked 6th in Lonely Planet’s top 10 best value destinations for 2011

This, according to Lonely Planet in an article here.

To quote:

The Philippines may be just about to rudely shove Thailand off the ‘best cheap beaches’ perch it’s occupied for the best part of two decades. For those who desire nothing more than to find great, undiscovered beaches, surf the odd wave and eat unique, distinctive food for under US$20 a day, the Philippines has the edge.

I agree that there are lots of beautiful places to see in the Philippines, and not just the beaches, many of which are still undiscovered.

Longganisa festival in Vigan, Ilocos Sur
Longganisa festival in Vigan, Ilocos Sur
A boy does the backflip in Pagudpud beach, Ilocos Norte.
A boy does the backflip in Pagudpud beach, Ilocos Norte.
Morning light strikes the top of the rice terraces in Batad, Ifugao.
Morning light strikes the top of the rice terraces in Batad, Ifugao.

Up north in the Cordillera, for example, there are spectacular mountain views for those who like to go hiking. And the northwestern coast of Luzon, from Pangasinan, to La Union, all of Ilocos (Sur and Norte), all the way to the northernmost tip of Cagayan, are dotted with beaches, eating places, baroque churches, bahay-na-bato, lighthouses and other remnants of our Spanish colonial history. Best traveled by private car, to allow frequent stopovers in various coastal towns, and side-trips to interesting towns further inland.

And down south, the beaches in the Visayas are already world famous. While I was doing a series of brochures for a German NGO that does community development in Mindanao, I also learned about tourism development in Cotabato, and a transportation network being put in place that will link Mindanao with neighboring countries Brunei and Eastern Malaysia via RORO, bus and air. That’s definitely going into my future travel plans!

A boy dives into the river in Loboc, Bohol
A boy dives into the river in Loboc, Bohol
Dumaluan Beach, Panglao, Bohol
Dumaluan Beach, Panglao, Bohol

Our country is an amazing travel destination. But we need to improve many of our supporting services in order to attract more visitors. We also need to plan ahead to protect our resources before the influx of tourists.

First is transportation. I love how Cebu Pacific has given us an affordable way to travel by air across the country. Perhaps they can do better by offering a discounted fare package, an open ticket for a given number of destinations and valid for 1 year for example. They can create a package that allows surfing enthusiasts to travel from one beach in Luzon to other beaches in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Perhaps our bus companies can follow the same open ticket scheme. One ticket going to Ilocos Norte, where a passenger can get off or on as many times as he wants in any town along the route. I learned about this scheme when I was doing research for my Vietnam trip. I thought it was a great idea and I cannot imagine why that should be impossible to do here.

Surfing in San Juan, La Union
Surfing in San Juan, La Union

Second, our hotel services. Most of the time I feel that in many places where I have stayed in my local trips, accommodation is overpriced when I consider the quality of personal service, the food and the room condition. Either we improve the quality, or lower the price to a reasonable level.

Third, how we deal with tourists. The taxi drivers, the cops on the streets, the hawkers in the sidewalks, the tambays in the corner, we all eventually get in contact with the tourists at some point. We should all do our part to make them feel welcome and not just think about how to part them with their dollars.

Next, the management of places that tourists like to visit: historical towns and buildings, our beaches, forest reserves and other natural resources, our local culture.

I love quoting this line from one of my favorite travel writers, Pico Iyer, who said about Bali:

Say Bali, and two things come to mind: tourism and paradise. Both are inalienable features of the island, and also incompatible. For as fast as paradises seduce tourists, tourists reduce paradises… Hardly has a last paradise been discovered than everyone converges on it so fast that it quickly becomes a paradise lost.

Can we not say the same about our very own little paradises like Boracay? Sure, the 5-star resorts, with all the tourists and their dollars, they are all good; better for our economy. But at what cost? Tourism brings in the dollars, but there’s a price to pay especially if the industry is not planned or managed properly.

When our local government decides to “improve” a historical spot, say a baroque church or a Spanish colonial house in Ilocos, do they consult historians and art restorers on how best to renovate while keeping the authenticity of the art, or the materials intact? When the coastal towns decide to open their beaches to hotel construction, do they first assess how it will impact the environment? When communities decide to open their indigenous culture and life to external visitors, do they have a plan in place to protect their children once the sex predators swoop in; or their local crafts and livelihood, once the 7-11’s, the Starbuckses, the 5-star hotels, the McDonalds, the malls come barging in?

The tourism industry in the Philippines is about to break. Now is the best time for our government to act on the best plan that will wow the tourists, bring in the dollars and still protect our resources and people. My fear is that most people will think only of the $$$ and sacrifice everything else, even our very soul.

2 thoughts on “Philippines, ranked 6th in Lonely Planet’s top 10 best value destinations for 2011

  1. Hi, Lee. Yes it is all very sad. Recently I had the opportunity to work (print brochures) with an NGO, and one of their programs in the country is educating communities to protect their natural resources while attracting tourists. They seem to be doing well in the areas in Mindanao where they are testing the program, and hopefully that program will be copied in other parts of the country.

  2. The quote you paraphrased is exactly the fate of the Philippines and in particular, Palawan. The paradise that was El Nido will be lost faster than the ascent of its popularity. This, I promise.

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