Where-to picks for 2019

Discovery Shores Boracay’s stunning pool view.

The expanse of the SMX Convention Center is teeming with people of all ages. They’re all carrying leaflets and pamphlets and busy running around, with expectant faces as if they’re about to get the greatest deals of their lives.

At the two levels of the events building, there await their good news: rows and rows of booths offering drop-down rates of hotel accommodations, round-trip tickets and travel tour packages. In addition, there are booths that sell travel essentials and latest gears. It is one of the most anticipated times of the year for vacationers and travelers alike as the 26th Travel Tour Expo (TTE) happens until today, 10 February, at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

With 16,230 square meters of exhibition space featuring 400 exhibitors and 994 booths, the annual TTE is “as big as last year’s silver edition,” Marlene Dado Jante, chairman of TTE 2019, tells the Daily Tribune in an interview during the expo’s opening on 8 February.

“This event is like the most-awaited event every year. Many people save money, prepare their credit cards. It’s easy to book and buy,” Jante adds.

She enthuses how Filipinos have made it a habit to anticipate the annual expo featuring members of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA).

The first floor is filled with business-to-consumer booths, meaning mostly airlines, hotels, travel agencies, national tourism organizations (NTO) and related industries. At the International Travel Trade Expo, which coincides with the TTE, 47 companies from Australia, Cambodia, France, Guam, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United States are doing business-to-business meetings with 150 members of the association.

Apart from these, there are eight NTO including Guam Visitors Bureau, Hong Kong Tourism Board, Japan National Tourism Organization, Korea Tourism Organization, Singapore Tourism Board, Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

PHOTO shows (from left) Davao Oriental 1st District Rep. Corazon Malangyaon, Travel Tour Expo 2019 chair Marlene Dado Jante, Senator Maria Lourdes “Nancy” Binay, Philippine Travel Agencies Association president Ritchie Tuaño and Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. AL PADILLA

Beyond Bangkok

The last NTO is among those that reported good postings as a result of increasing Filipino visitors to Thailand.

Just three hours via air travel, Thailand, like the Philippines, is an attractive and popular Southeast Asian destination. It is a tourist magnet, known for its night markets, shopping stops and enticing cuisine. Like its neighbor, it is popular for its dreamy islands dotted with lush greens and white sand beaches.

Kajorndet Apichartrakul, Tourism Authority of Thailand director for Singapore and Philippines, shares their good news to select reporters.

“In 2018, we achieved a remarkable number of Filipino visitors to Thailand. The number hit 430,000. It’s about 13 percent in growth,” he shares.

About 60 to 70 percent of Filipino visitors are families that troop to the capital, Bangkok. He also notes they have had “repeaters,” or those who have been to Bangkok and visited again.
The good thing about these repeaters, which he says accounts for 30 to 40 percent, is that they do not only revisit the capital but go to other cities.

The TAT director shares this is where they plan to increase to 15 percent for this year.

“This year, we have the campaign we call ‘Secondary Cities.’ (These are cities surrounding or outside of Bangkok) like Chiang Mai, Phuket, Pattaya and Hua Hin. They are quite different in terms of nature, culture and geography. They’re quite unique. For example, Chiang Mai has good weather. If you love Baguio, you would definitely love Chiang Mai. It’s another version with a variety of food and culture,” he shares.

For those who are intrigued enough by this campaign or those who are planning to visit the “Land of Smiles,” there are upcoming festivals, some of which will be held in the aforementioned “secondary cities.”

Music lovers will be thrilled in Pattaya as two music festivals are set to happen in the resort city in the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand. From 14 to 16 March, the famous stretch of Pattaya beach will be filled with music from various genres featuring local and international artists during the Pattaya International Music Festival. If one is set to visit Pattaya during the last quarter of the year, have a blast of music and visual arts rolled into one event during the Wonderfruit Music and Arts Festival happening from 12 to 16 December.

Two of Thailand’s most popular festivals are yet to happen.

If the Philippines has the fiesta of San Juan where people throw water at each other, Thailand has a three-day water-drenching festival called Songkran. The festival marks the traditional Thai New Year. Most of the best action happens in Bangkok’s Khao San Road, Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya. This year it is slated to happen from 13 to 15 April.

The Loy Krathong or the Thai Festival of Lights is held during the first full moon of the traditional Thai Lunar calendar’s 12th month. People usually float candlelit, lotus-shaped containers down the river. It is recommended to observe this festival in Chiang Mai, where it coincides with the lantern festival called Yee Peng. Loy Krathong happens on 13 November this year.

Revelers use toy water guns to spray water over each other during a mass water fight at the annual Songkran last year. AFP

Get into paradise for less

For those who are eyeing the the Philippines’ gems, the TTE has tons of amazing deals in many destinations in the country. After all, domestic tourism still takes the huge pie from the pockets of Filipino wanderlusts.

In a survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority and the Department of Tourism held from 1 April to 20 September 2018, 42 million Filipinos 15 years and above are domestic travelers.

Those surveyed reveal that they prefer to visit malls, churches, beaches and religious and pilgrimage sites. Among their favorite places are the National Capital Region, Bohol, Cebu, Negros Occidental, Pangasinan, Cavite and Quezon.

Jante shares the same observation. She adds that though Filipinos have been traveling more outside of the country, they are also equally exploring the nooks and corners of the Philippines. According to their records, Filipinos embraced Siargao, Bohol and Palawan, especially after the temporary shutdown of top inbound and outbound destination, Boracay, from April to October last year.

She, however, adds that Boracay still holds the largest share of the pie.

Who wouldn’t be drawn to the island paradise with its fine white sands that paint a picture of an idyllic getaway?

If Boracay is on one’s radar, then head on to TTE where packages are as low as they can get including those offered by luxury resorts preferred by the country’s well-heeled set.

Discovery Shores Boracay is famous for its stunning beach front accented by a gorgeous pool. It is home to an award-winning culinary team and is among the most cited in terms of service and quality of stay. Stay in a Junior Suite or One Bedroom Suite for a minimum of two nights with daily buffet breakfast for two at Sands Restaurant, roundtrip Caticlan airport transfers and dining credit of P5,000 per stay. Rates start from P16,000 net per night.

For those who have more cash to burn, experience the new Signature One Bedroom Suite, complemented by buffet breakfast and a one-time set dinner at the Italian restaurant Forno Osteria, a round of cocktail drinks for two at 360 Lounge and roundtrip Caticlan airport transfers. With rates starting at P29,000 net per night, guests can expect unique and signature pampering from the Guest Experience Makers when staying at Signature Suites.

The Discovery group’s other hotels also offer attractive packages. For more information, visit their booth at Hall 1 at Aisles F and G or log in to www.discoveryhotels-resorts.com.

Still the best way

The TTE, says Jante, is the best way to plan the trips for the year and even ahead. At a time when everything is made more convenient with just the click of a button and travel behavior has become more mobile and flexible especially among millennials who are known for their Do-It-Yourself travel mantra, Jante comments that booking and preparing for one’s next destination is still best when one chooses to tap the expertise of a travel agent.

“They (millennials) normally try to search online. But you’ll be wasting time actually searching for the destinations. But you know if you go to a traditional travel agent who are learned about these destinations, they can do it in 10 to 20 minutes. But if you do it online, you do it at a maximum of four hours, right? So with the travel agent, they can tell you the do’s and don’t’s, what to wear and everything. I encourage the millennials to still patronize the traditional travel agents because we know the destination, we have experienced it and we can give advice. You’ll never go wrong with travel agents,” she points out.

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