The Philippines' new tourism chief is hoping that millennials will be inspired by social media sites like WeChat and Instagram to visit its culinary destinations as the government considers imposing quotas on beachgoers. Tourism officials worldwide will be watching to see how it turns out.
Anthony Bourdain inspired a generation of travelers to look beyond sanitized attractions and experience a country’s culture, food and people. The Philippines wants to make sure those tourists keep coming even as it shut down one of Asia’s top beaches.
The Southeast Asian nation credits the late gourmand for shining a light on local dishes such as “lechon” (roasted pork) and “sisig” (minced pork ears and liver), Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said, and it plans to target adventurers like Bourdain.
“The Philippines is not just about the beaches,” said Romulo-Puyat, who was appointed weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte closed Boracay’s famous white-sand coast for a six-month visitors detox. “Long time ago, people would think the Philippines is all about exotic food, but because of the late Anthony Bourdain, our food is getting attention.”
The government is betting that the move to put the spotlight on its local cuisine will help compensate the loss in tourism revenue as it limits the number of travelers to its beaches. The Philippines joins neighbors such as Thailand — which attracts five times more travelers — to ease congestion at popular beach destinations. Imposing caps on beachgoers means the Philippines has to lure tourists with food and culture to meet its target of doubling foreign visitors to 12 million before Duterte’s term ends in 2022, according to Romulo-Puyat.
The economics professor, who was an agriculture official under several administrations before assuming the top tourism post, said in a July 16 interview that enticing millennials through Facebook and Instagram would help boost tourism’s contribution to the economy from 12.2 percent last year. While domestic tourism remains the main driver of growth, foreign visitors and Filipinos from overseas spent 448.6 billion pesos ($8.4 billion) in 2017.
“The one thing we see from millennial travelers a lot around the world is people have a real desire to go to a hotel where it really feels like it’s a green hotel,” John Brown, chief executive officer of Agoda Services Co., said at the Bloomberg Asean Business Summit in Bangkok last week. “You’ll be surprised how many people we have on site asking if is this an environmentally friendly hotel.”
Chinese nationals are also visiting at a record pace as relations between Manila and Beijing warm under Duterte. Philippine Airlines Inc. plans to begin flights this year to secondary cities in China where tourists rent planes to go to the island resorts of Boracay, Palawan and Cebu, President Jaime Bautista said in an interview this week.
The Philippines aims to get between 1.2 million and 1.5 million Chinese arrivals this year, up from 968,447 in 2017. Chinese visitors jumped 44 percent last year, dislodging the U.S. as the nation’s top source of visitors after South Korea.
–With assistance from Claire Jiao.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
Photo credit: Some of the cuisine of the Philippines. Tourism officials want visitors to focus on the destination's food. Philippines Tourism