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[Photo of Sinulog]Things are looking up for Philippine tourism with the global financial crunch in the rear view mirror.

The arrival of May signals the celebration of various local and folk festivals. Symbolically, the first day of May itself is a holiday, a time of rest from taxing days working ourselves to the bone. In some provincial communities, it is also a time for preparation for the busy month of merriment ahead.

For the Flores de Mayo festival, a month of preparation won’t even suffice.  And why not spend more than a month of preparation? As the flowers of May bloom in magenta, yellow, and other gaudy colors, organizers see green. The Catholic festival ushers in money from various sponsors ranging from pharmaceutical firms to bottling companies. Not only that, fiestas bring in tourists not just from Metro Manila, but also from overseas.

Data released by the Department of Tourism (DOT) shows that Cebu accounted for 1.61 million tourist traffic last year, a 1.2% increase from 2008. Cebu fiestas echo the island's rich cultural heritage of animists, pagans, Muslims, and later on, Christians. January saw the celebration of such fiestas like the Sinulog festival, a nine-day festival devoted to the passage of Cebuano people into Christianity, and also held in praise of Cebu's patron saint, the Sto. Niño (Christ Child).

Tourists flock to the streets of Cebu to watch locals donning flamboyant costumes and perform the famous Sinulog dance, which was taken from the Cebuano word Sulog meaning  “like the movement of the water current.” The festival is an especially big hit with Koreans. Some 29% of the total number of foreign tourists that visited the island are from South Korea. The number of Chinese tourists also rose by 70%, mostly coming from the Guanzhou and Shanghai regions.

Coming in second was Camarines Sur which had an 117.2% increase in tourist traffic to 1.57 million visitors from   721,024 the previous year. Camarines Sur, which is known for hosting international and local events along its white sandy beaches, has seen improvement in its domestic visitors to 1.3 million, a 140% increase. The percentage of foreign visitors likewise soared by 56.1%.

Metro Manila, the country's capital, ranks third in DOT's top tourism destinations. Its tourist volume last year was 1.4 million, which translates to 16% of the country's tourists in 2009. All in all, tourist traffic in 2009 enjoyed 14% growth with 8.9 million foreign visitors.

Employment also played a huge role in the tourism boom this year. According to David Leechiu, Country Head of  Jones Lang LaSalle Leechiu, a known property consultancy firm, the transplanting of the operations of some Business Process Outsourcing companies like JP Morgan Chase and Teletech to the provinces have caused an increase in infrastructure and office expansion, and has resulted in an increased demand for accommodations and transportation.

Top 10

Good news abounds as the Philippines continues to gain recognition from foreign tourism award-giving bodies in China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Russia, and North America.

Palawan, the country's eco-tourism haven, has been included in the list of Top 10 Best Destinations for elite travelers in China. The Philippines, meanwhile, garnered 4.3 million votes from ctrip.com and Elite Traveler magazine subscribers.

Offices of the Department of Tourism in Beijing and Russia are also reaping the benefits of the country's improved travel destinations. DOT-Beijing has been awarded Best Destinations Promotions by the China Travel Agents (CTA) Magazine, while the Russian office has has its website lauded with positive reviews from visitors of www.travel.ru.

In the United States, the Philippines bagged the Reader's Choice Award, which was initiated by Scuba Diving Magazine. It certainly is a pleasant surprise that the Philippines continue to top the tourism charts. Yet one more reason to fiesta.

Print ed: 05/10


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