Asian-American and mainstream American travel agents immerse themselves in a 7-day Philippine experience

Mega Fam Tour participants pose for photo ops at the Rizal Park.

Mega Fam Tour participants pose for photo ops at the Rizal Park.

MANILA – Beaches are just the beginning…

The Mega Fam Tour organized by the Philippine Department of Tourism (PDOT) featured not only Boracay, the number one beach destination in Asia, but also historic and cultural elements, adventure travel, good food and lots of surprises along the way that made the event one of the most fun, informative and memorable trips to the Philippines for the over 100 travel agents from the United States and Canada.

On Monday, March 23, DOT wrapped up the Travel Agents & Media Members’ Mega Familiarization Tour to the Philippines with a product/buyers’ seminar held at the Blue Leaf Filipinas Events Pavilion in Aseana City in Paranaque. The seminar placed the emphasis on the Visit Philippines Year 2015 campaign’s five main themes: 1) business meetings, 2) history and culture, 3) lifestyle and entertainment, 4) music and arts, and 5) sports, adventure and eco-tourism.

In her welcome remarks, Ms. Corazon Jorda-Apo, Director of the Philippine Department of Tourism’s Project Development, expressed optimism that the week-long Mega Fam Tour has equipped the participants with knowledge about the country’s tourism products that are available to aggressively and effectively promote the Philippines and partner the country in twin destination packages with other popular Asian destinations.

The Mega Fam Tour organized by DOT featured three major Philippine destinations. Held in partnership with Philippine Airlines, China Airlines, and EVA Air, with the support of major airline consolidators GTT International/Majestic Vacations, Hanatours and Sita Tours, the Fam Tour allowed veteran travel industry leaders to experience for themselves what the Philippines has to offer so they can share their personal experiences with their clients back home.

Boracay, Puerto Princesa, Cebu and Bohol, Corregidor and Tagaytay were the main attractions in the activities-filled itineraries specially designed for the over 100 tour operators, travel consultants and agents, who were divided into three groups based on their specialized interests.

Coming from all parts of the United States and Canada, most of the participants are first-time travelers to the Philippines. For a whole week, they immersed themselves in all things Filipino: cultural events, historical sites, shopping destinations, adventure tourism, food, nightlife and local scenes – both in the cities and in the countrysides.

As industry leaders with years of experience in tourism promotions and tour packages, their opinions and experiences matter to their clients and future travelers. In addition to taking the tour participants to well known Philippine attractions, the Mega Fam Tour placed a focus on showing off unique travel experiences as well, including:

– a visit to the Tarsier sanctuary in Bohol for an up-close and personal encounter with the nocturnal animal which is unique to the Philippines;
– a lunch aboard a boat while cruising the Loboc River in Bohol with the waiters and waitresses doubling up as singers and dancers to provide entertainment;
– a religious encounter in Cebu on a Sunday where local residents filled the grounds of the Basilica Menore de Santo Nino that attest to their faith
– the chance to dance the tinikling under the starlight;
– an endless culinary offerings from multiple restaurants, all of which served the famous lechon;
– a nostalgic encounter with the historic past in Corregidor;
– and a taste of the Filipinos’ number one treat and dessert: halo-halo;

Currently one of Southeast Asia’s fast rising economies, the Philippines offers a lot of opportunities for MICE business, health-and-wellness and medical tourism, adventure travels and eco-tourism and diving and liveaboards. The product presentations on these topics conducted by Venus Tan and Glenn Agustin of DOT and TPB (Tourism Promotions Board) drew lots of interests from the travel agents.

Elizabeth Pirrie, master cruise counselor and destination specialist of Travel Leaders from Seattle, Washingtonwho joined the tour so she can market the Philippines to her clients who are looking for unique destinations was particularly happy with her Mega Fam Tour experience.

“It was a hectic exhausting week, but it was all worth it,” she said. “After what I have seen and experience, I am certainly now in a position to market the Philippines.”

Pompeyo Cepeda-Moya, a travel consultant for Travel Services Explorers from Verdugo City, CA was particularly impressed with the hospitality extended to the participants every they went.

“I think the most worthwhile experience for me is getting around and interacting with the locals,” he said.

“The people are so warmth and so kind and hospitable,” he added. “I wish I could stay longer. But I got to get back and do my job.” And that is include the Philippine destinations as part of the tour packages he will design fro clients back in the States.

“The only thing I miss is there was no time for me to swim despite all those awesome hotel pools, and beaches we have stayed in and visited,” another participants said.

“I will definitely come back — and I will stay longer,” Kinsey McFadden, a participant from Hawaii added.

In addition to the varied immersion experience, the Mega Fam Tour participants learned additional information from representatives of partner airlines, Maricel Wall of Philippine Airlines, Depi Cheng of China Airlines and Sara Lube of Eva Air, who all provided updates of their respective airlines latest offerings that are important to travelers, including latest developments, airline safety features and flight frequencies.

Eliza Chung of GTT International/Majestic Vacations, one of the largest airline consolidators in the United States and Ryan Choi of Hana Tour, one of the leading travel agencies in the US, also conducted product presentations on the tour packages offerings available to the travel agents in attendance.

ETTV Network, the leading Chinese television company in the US provided full coverage of the Mega Fam Tour to feature the country’s unique culinary, attractions, people, culture – all of which show why it’s more fun in the Philippines. The series of episodes will be aired and broadcast in the network’s news and travel channels.

ETTV reporter Lilian Ma was so impressed with the places she visited and with the warm reception accorded to them everywhere that she promised to return to the county.

“This time I will come back as tourist – to simply enjoy and not worry about working,” she said.

The Mega Fam Tour was held in line with DOT’s ongoing campaign to introduce and promote Philippine destinations to the emerging Asian-American market and mainstream American travelers who are in search of unique destinations such as those available in the Philippines.

Prior to the familiarization tour, a series of tourism product presentations was conducted in California, New York, Texas and other key states in the East and West Coasts in the United States in addition to various advertising and promotional campaigns.

Now that they are better equipped with knowledge about the Philippines, many of the Fam Tour participants are eager to go back and start promoting the Philippines to their clients – either as an extension or part of a twin destination with other cities; or entirely different tour packages for MICE businesses, conventions, weddings, family vacations, group travel or adventure tours, among many others.

The US market remains the second biggest source of tourist with 76,896 arrivals for January gaining 16.05% market share of the total arrivals in the Philippines compared to the 71,042 arrivals in 2014.

With the recent familiarization tour specially targeting the Asian-American market and mainstream American travelers who are visiting neighboring countries in the region, DOT aims to boost these arrivals in the coming years.