It was 25th of March when I received a notification from Tripadvisor about the top 25 best places to travel in the world this 2016. I know that the Department of Tourism has been doing its best to promote the Philippines globally in the past few years, thus, I’m confident that I would see the Philippines on the list if not in the world category at least in Asian category. As I slowly browsed through the list of the best places, which by the way were voted by the members of Tripadvisor, I was happy to see some of our neighboring countries who made it this year. There were Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and Cambodia. Further down the list, I was hopeful I’d see my dear country, the Philippines, so imagine my reaction when I’ve completed reading the list and realized that it is not included.
It was a mixed emotion; I’ve been promoting my country every day through my blog and social media. I’d been saving my money to discover its beauty and promote it to the world so it broke my heart that my country didn’t make it to the list. I checked the Asia Category and ended up being more frustrated. Even in Asia, the Philippines wasn’t able to make the cut.
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The Philippines has 7,107 islands (7,500 if we are to include the latest discovery), branded as the Pearl of the Orient, and it has the one of the best islands in the world, Palawan. And it has so much more to offer; century old churches, majestic mountains, rice terraces, volcanoes (including the one with the perfect cone, Mayon Volcano), Chocolate Hills, fine white sand beaches, enchanting rivers, and rich and diverse marine life. And we the Filipinos are known to be hospitable, happy, and friendly people, who by the way can speak in English. Also, we serve delicious dishes. We have so much to offer beyond what I’ve mentioned, so it makes me wonder why we didn’t make it to the list.
I don’t want to sound dramatic or bitter that we didn’t make it to Tripadvisor’s Travelers’ Choice. Some people may argue that the list is not credible, or that they wouldn’t base whether a country is the best or not on Tripadvisor. It’s your opinion, I respect it.
In my opinion though, many people still rely on Tripadvisor’s reviews when they are traveling. I myself read reviews there and though I still believe that Tripadvisor is an influential website for traveling. They have the power to convert this list into a number of visitors and looking on a big picture, in case we made it here, may drive more tourists into our country that could help boost our economy. I mean, who among us doesn’t dream of traveling to places branded as the best by the travelers around the world?
I know that every country has its own beauty to showcase to the world. I’d been to some places that were included on the list and I’m confident that the Philippines could be equally or more beautiful than those. I’m not questioning who made it to the top, but I couldn’t help but ask this question, Dear Philippines: What’s Wrong with You?
I started to ask people on Facebook to share their ideas on why our country wasn’t included on the list. I compiled all of them and here’s what they have to say:
What could be the reasons why tourists are hesitant to visit the Philippines?
People think that the Philippines is not safe
With the series of bombings, kidnapping, and terrorism that are still happening in the southern part of the country, news about airport scams, and crime rate, it is no wonder that the Philippines is deemed dangerous by the tourists. These news are broadcasted worldwide both on television and social media. People think that your life will be in danger when you visit our country. People fear things that they don’t know.Change the way you think about foreign land, I can’t assure your safety when you visit my country but crimes and terrorism don’t only happen to us. It’s happening worldwide.
I remember a month before my visit to Thailand, there was a bombing that happened to the capital but it didn’t stop me from going there anyway. I’m vigilant, I take care of myself, and I’m responsible for all my actions. If I let fear overcome my decision, I will never discover how amazing Bangkok is.
If you know how to be vigilant and do your research, there are only a few places that have a warning to foreigners to see in the Philippines. I have been to some places in Mindanao, which they say, is not a safe place to travel. But look at me, I’d been there, still alive and now writing this story. I can say that in general, the Philippines is a safe country to visit. I hope that the notion that this is an unsafe place would be dispelled and not discourage anyone from going here. It frustrates me that most people who say that this is not a safe place to travel have not even gone here to begin with. Why not go here and experience it by yourself?
People think that The Philippines is an expensive tourist destination
If I have to compare it with some of our neighboring countries, I would also think that the Philippines is expensive. Yes, I believe that our offered vacation comes with quality. The same with other countries, we have luxury hotels and tours but if you are on a budget you can find a decent hostel in Manila for as low as 10$.
I stayed in some Southeast Asian countries with decent accommodation for as low as 6$ per night. This rate may be hard to find in our city but if you go to the countryside, you can find an accommodation for only 6$ per night.
Try visiting Batad, Ifugao and see for yourself an amphitheater view of Rice terraces which is one of the heritage sites in the world. You may also visit Apo Whang-od, the 98-year old traditional tattoo artist who practices the art of batok in the humble village of Buscalan in Kalinga. Your 6$ for accommodation will surely give you a mind-blowing view of the terraces and an unforgettable experience living with our locals.
The Philippines is hard to travel because it’s geographically scattered
It is true that the Philippines is consists of over 7,000 islands. We are considered as the second largest archipelago in the world, next to Indonesia. If you do not plan your vacation well, you may find it hard and expensive to move from one island to another. On the brighter side, it means that we have thousands of different adventures, jaw-dropping views, and experiences to offer. What do you want on your next vacation? Name it, we have it! (Of course, with the exception of winter and snow).
To move from Manila, you need to fly if you want to visit Boracay, Palawan, Cebu, Iloilo, Davao, and other major islands. Taking a ferry is another option if you have enough time to stay longer. If you plan to visit the northern part of the country, from the capital it will take a 5-hour drive to visit Baguio then another 5 hours to visit the Mountain Province, or less than 10 hours to visit the Heritage City, Vigan, which is one of the 7 wonders of the world.
We also have budget airlines that offer domestic flights to major destinations in the country. In fact, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia Philippines are giving away promo flights almost every month. Just follow them on Facebook to be updated. You can score a domestic flight for as low as 22$ if you book using these promos.
I don’t see our geographic location as a problem; I see it as an opportunity and a blessing. Our country has all the potential to be the best tourist destination not only in Asia but in the entire world. But we keep shooting ourselves in the foot, doing or saying things that at the end of the day hurt the image of our country. We have too much negative branding in the international media that make us hard to visit. Our International Airport in Manila, which serves as the gateway to all the wonderful places in the country was once considered as the worst airport in the world. Put it this way, how would you invite someone to visit your home when the façade looks like a horror house?
We will continue to miss a lot of visits until our government provides a concrete plan to improve the infrastructures, safety, and security needed to boost the tourism. It should start with the government and with the people. It should be a joined effort to introduce the Philippines to the rest of the world. The government can always expect promotion from bloggers and ordinary people, in return, we expect that the government to do their job to improve our international airports, create projects and infrastructure to resolve the problem of traffic and to easily link one place to another.
It’s never too late to fix all the damages or the problems this country has. Indeed, we have a lot of work to do. I still have high hopes that it could still happen in our country. I hope that you, my fellow Filipinos will never get tired of promoting the beauty of our motherland to everyone.