It is hard to imagine what the Philippines looks like in the eyes of another Pinoy. Even harder is to get a glimpse of what a foreigner sees or thinks when he hears about the Philippines.
“The Philippines has so much to offer,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano. “I continue to discover so much about the country each time I travel around it. I will never grow tired of promoting and marketing the Philippines to foreign markets because it is indeed the best destination in the world.”
The Russian market seems to have caught the enthusiasm and love that Durano has for the country. Proof positive is the 34 percent growth in tourist arrivals from Russia for the first half of this year. Durano is certain that with the addition of St. Petersburg to Moscow and the Russian Far East markets, the tourist arrivals from Russia can only continue to grow.
The positive working relationship that exists between the DOT and the private sector is laudable in the effort to market the country. At a time when the government is being hit left and right because of one issue or another, it is heartwarming to see a government agency like the DOT working very closely and cohesively with the private sector — both with the same vision and goal.
“We at the DOT can market the country the best we can,” added Durano. “But we need the private sector to work with us so that when the Russian tourists become interested in the country they can avail of the best packages and stay at the best hotels and resorts in the country.”
Aaah, love, it really does make the world go round. And make the Russians come, too.
So, let’s begin counting the ways:
1. A Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary who had the foresight to invade the market. In 2006 Tourism Secretary Ace Durano embarked on a selling mission to Russia after careful study, showing that the market looked ripe for the picking. First stop was Moscow in 2006. In 2007, it was Far Eastern Russia-Vladivostok and Khabarovsk. This year, on Sept. 19 to 21, the DOT and its partners from the Philippine tourism industry went on their first selling mission to St. Petersburg.
“Russia is a very big market that can be divided into several market segments. After two years of market development efforts, the Philippines already has a strong presence in Moscow, Vladivostok and Khabarovsk,” said Durano. “St. Petersburg will be a good addition to ensure that growth momentum is sustained. Russian arrivals held its position as the fastest growing market for us. The presence of more resorts and tour operators at this year’s mission is a response to this strong demand for the Philippines, especially from free independent travelers and the luxury travel segment of the market.”
2. Great marketing efforts. Since its participation in the Leisure Fair in 2005, the DOT has striven to find the perfect blend of elements to be featured at the Philippine stand that best represents the country to make it attractive to the Russian market. The booth is always busy with animation activities like cultural performances by the Bayanihan National Folk Dance Company, games, sampling of the Philippine hilot and other traditional healing methods, Filipino food tasting, and much more. These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Last year, the Philippine booth was among the 10 participating countries recognized for best marketing efforts at the Otdykh Leisure Fair in Moscow. This year, the Philippines won the same award along with eight other national tourist organizations. Indonesia was the only other Asian country to receive the award.
The tourism arrival figures also speak of how effective the marketing campaign of the DOT has been. In 2004 Russia and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) arrivals to the country were 3,570. In 2005 the arrivals to the Philippines were 10,253. In 2006 a separate ranking was made for Russian arrivals only; the arrivals were 3,566. In 2007, it grew by almost 129 percent to 8,163. In 2008 from January to June the arrivals from Russia increased by 34 percent with a total of 5,920. This number is sure to increase by yearend with the addition of visitors from St. Petersburg.
3. Creating an image of the Philippines as the best destination for Russians. Based on studies made by the DOT, Russians favor beach holidays spent in tropical environments. The Philippines is one place where pristine beaches and resorts of all kinds abound.
The image of the Philippines as the perfect place for sun and so much more was a hit among the Russians in St. Petersburg. In a preliminary report by DOT marketing representative for Russia and the CIS, Edward Grigoriev, says, “There were about 45 tour agents who visited the business-to-business meetings and got information about Philippine hotels and resorts. Overall, more than 120 visitors from around 65 tour operators and travel agents, local travel media and TV visited the event. The high impact on the local travel industry was noted by the local tour operators in St. Petersburg. According to them, there has never been a similar event in their city.”
In Moscow, the Philippine tour operators, hotels and resorts were happy with the turnout of people who visited the booth.
“It is always good to return to Moscow,” said Serafina S. Joven, president and general manager, Annset Holidays, Inc. “I met with some of my established Russian clients and I also met new ones. My experience here in Russia has been a positive one. I know that once I have established a good reputation with them; they are very loyal.”
“I made new contacts here in Moscow,” said Sonia Lazo, Intas Destinations. “I believe that being part of the DOT delegation at these fairs has been good for me in my business.”
“The work that the DOT does in marketing the country here in Russia has been very good,” said Joy Denoga, director of sales and marketing, El Nido Resort, Palawan. “It is because of the efforts of the DOT that we have been able to make our presence felt here in Russia. The DOT has paved the way well for the private sector in this market.”
4. Always in search of diversifying the market and widening its base. “It was really just a matter of time,” said Undersecretary for Tourism Planning and Promotions, Eduardo Jarque, Jr. “St. Petersburg does not have the travel fairs that Moscow has and we needed to prepare well for a special event here. Russians are getting more mature as travelers — some love the beach, some go for wellness, others like the whole shopping experience. But the bottom line is that they all really love to have fun. They want to experience the world and we can give that.”
5.6.7. The best tour operators, the best hotels, and the best resorts. “This is the first time that we are bringing this big a number of travel industry partners to Europe with us,” said Verna Buensuceso, head of the DOT’s European marketing team. “The private sector response to our invitation to join events in Russia is simply overwhelming. Their enthusiasm continues to grow each year. We have about 15 properties represented here and nine very important and very aggressive tour operators.”
The tour operators who joined the fair this year were Annset Holidays, Inc, Baron Travel Corporation, Blue Horizons Travel and Tours, inc., TRIPS, Inc., Intas Destinations, Marsman Drysdale Travel, Inc., Pelagos Tours and Travel, Medved Travel Agency, Southeast Travel Corporation. Among the hotels and resorts were Sofitel Philippine Plaza, El Nido Resorts Eskaya Beach Resort and Spa, Dos Palmas Island Resort, Hilton Cebu Resort and Spa, Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, HSAI Raintree, Discovery Suites, Discovery Shores Boracay, Discovery Bay Misibis, Boracay Regency, Alegre Beach Resort, Badian Island Resort, Boracay Mandarin Island Resort, Gota Beach, Microtel Inn and Suites and Plantation Bay Resort and Spa.
8. An interesting culture and warm, friendly people. It is a fact that Filipinos are well known the world over for their hospitality. There are many Russians who love to travel because they are pampered. Another facet of the Philippines that so attracts the Russians is our culture. This is why the Bayanihan is a staple at the Philippine booths. Even during the Mabuhay Night events where tour operators and travel agents from Russia meet with their Philippine counterparts in a more relaxed setting, one of the highlights is the performance of the Bayanihan, which is a perfect glimpse of just what the Philippines is all about, beyond our natural resources. Part of the country’s culture is its cuisine and for Russians, it appears that they cannot get enough of Filipino food and beverages — from our seafood to cornicks, dried mangoes, Chocnut and happy-hour drinks Tanduay rhum and San Miguel beer. Hotel and resort managers consistently note the high spending of the Russian market, especially for food and beverage.
9. Visa-free entry. In October 2007Russians were granted visa-free entry to the Philippines. Unlike other European markets, the Russians do not make plans for their vacations ahead of schedule. This is why they prefer countries that do not have a visa requirement that will have to be processed before entry. Making the visit to the country visa-free was a strategic move by the DOT to make traveling to the country more attractive. With this, travel to the country is now hassle-free. Russians only need valid tickets for their return journey to their port of origin or to their next port of destination. They also must have passports that are valid for six months upon entering the country. Better flight connections and program extensions. With more and more carriers connecting the
Philippines to Russia, accessibility is certainly getting better and keeping air ticket prices at affordable rates due to stiffer competition, despite increasing fuel costs, taxes and surcharges. One of the more recent trends noted is the growing number of extension packages to the Philippines, combining visits to other Southeast Asian destinations with a Philippine segment of the itinerary. We are now taking advantage of the affordable airfare and the high number of flight connections and charter flights from Russia to our Southeast Asian neighbors. Since many Russian operators have blockings for these air seats, a considerable number have used these blockings as cheaper alternatives to reach the Philippines.