It was the Diwali holiday’s long weekend in Singapore, so my son who lives there took the occasion to make an impromptu visit here. I was surprised he came by himself this time, apparently wanting to spend quality time with us and not compete with the pleasant distraction of our lovable grandkids.
My son loves to go abroad during long weekends in Singapore. And it is not just him. Many Singaporeans seem to want to get out of the city state on long weekend holidays too. I think my son has been to about every other island other than Phuket that comprises Thailand’s sun and sea offerings.
He and his family are always on the move… to Bali, to Bangkok, to Hong Kong, to Japan, and even Dubai. I think it is because folks in Singapore can feel cooped up, specially because they all work so hard. Despite the wonderful nature parks there, there is not much space to stretch out one’s legs and experiences.
Yet, my son and his family didn’t include Manila in their long weekend trips. Our traffic problems can be traumatizing. It once took them four hours from NAIA T3 to our place in Pasig. And measured against Changi, the NAIA airport experience is discouraging.
But the whole family visited us the other month and the grandkids had a great time at Preziosa Farms near Tagaytay. Then we went to a resort in San Juan, Batangas and we experienced EDSA-like traffic in Lipa. They plan to go to Baguio for Chinese New Year, but will fly to Clark and we will drive up from there.
My son was telling me that we are missing a lot by not marketing our beautiful vacation spots in Singapore. Forget Manila and NAIA. He said, we need to put in more flights between Singapore and Cebu, Singapore and Boracay, and maybe Singapore and Siargao. I think Iloilo is also a good place to sell if we had more direct flights.
We have better beaches than Thailand, but the Thai beaches have better facilities, including hospitals that can handle all sorts of emergencies from accidents to heart attacks. The other big advantage of the Thai resorts is the intelligent tourism marketing of the Thai tourism department. We, on the other hand, are flippant, changing marketing themes with each new administration.
Come to think of it, there are so many Korean tourists in Cebu and Boracay because they have direct flights from Incheon and other South Korean airports. Plantation Bay in Mactan attracts a lot of South Koreans too, thanks to their sales agent in Seoul. Market focus, good product, and good infrastructure work together to bring in the tourists.
Singapore should be a good market. It is just about three hours away. Singaporeans have the financial means to take short vacations in nearby foreign resorts. But they are on a strict schedule. They need dependable airline flights because they are just cramming in a vacation in between school and work days.
In fact, my son was complaining that a month after he reserved his Cebu Pacific flight to Clark for the coming Chinese New Year, CebPac notified him his flight back had been cancelled and reset for the next day.
In terms of our presentable major cities, the two queen cities of the south are good bets for long weekend tourism. I was recently in Cebu and I was amazed at the building boom. The South Road Project (SRP) developments have come pretty well. Tommy Osmena should be credited with foresight and fortitude to make that happen. Someone with less grit would have given up easily when the political brickbats over the project came.
The Cebu South Coastal Road, the wide main avenue where the Gokongweis’ NuStar hotel and casino and the ultra-modern SM seaside mall are, looks like another country. The SM mall reminded me of the SM mall in Xiamen. This is a new side of Cebu City, much improved from the narrow roads in the old part of town. And then there is the very modern Cebu-Cordova bridge that makes this part of Cebu look pretty progressive.
I haven’t been to Iloilo recently, but from what I remember from my last trip and the new pictures of the city’s development, it is also one city we can proudly market. Iloilo’s now famous riverside promenade was designed by the same Filipino urban planner who worked on Singapore’s riverfront quays, as well as Orchard Road’s wide pedestrian walk.
Iloilo’s old-world ambience was made possible by their thoughtful preservation of historical buildings in the old business district. It reminds you of when Iloilo was a major port with a thriving textile industry. It is also similar to some areas in Singapore or some smaller European cities. But if a tourist wants modern, Iloilo has it too. Or a short boat ride to the island of Guimaras can bring a tourist the joys of ecological tourism.
One strong reason for a tourist, local or foreign, to visit Iloilo is its food. It was recently declared UNESCO’s first Creative City of Gastronomy in the Philippines. It is a testament to the city’s vibrant culture, its people’s passion for culinary arts.
During my first visit to Iloilo my hosts brought me to the La Paz public market for a nice bowl of steaming hot batchoy, with all the ingredients that would give my cardiologist a heart attack. I also remember Tatoy’s, a restaurant known for fresh seafood. Maybe I should revisit Iloilo for a weeklong gastronomic adventure.
But the best reason to visit Iloilo today is to do business. Indeed, they are having an investment roadshow today at The Conrad to invite entrepreneurs to Iloilo. The Metro Iloilo- Guimaras Economic Development Council (MIGEDC) has lined up a number of interesting projects. I will write about the details in a future column.
With a Cebuana as tourism secretary, maybe we will see more efforts to have more direct flights to the tourism centers of Cebu, Iloilo, Bohol and Siargao. It will be an easy sell because we have the natural beauty and the infrastructure is already there.