Good reviews need to be built on beyond just hospitality
But, is the country ready for it? That's the question that comes to mind once the sense of pride one gets at the news that a slew of international travel publications has highlighted the Philippines as a top travel destination this year washes over.There is, of course, no denying the sigrivals, New York-based Travel+Leisure magazine and the UK edition of Conde Nast Traveller, both agree that the country is now a must-visit place, then that means we're doing something right. We've sufficiently turned a new leaf in the world's eyes to merit a second, more approving, look.
The New York Times, for instance, makes no mention of the ills that have long dogged any mention of the Philippines as a leisure destination - security and safety, an international airport ranked among the world's worst and poor infrastructure - in its glowing hat tip to the country, which it placed 17th in its list of "46 Places To Go In 2013", ahead of Puerto Rico, Thailand, Norway, Ireland, even Paris.
"A surfing and beach destination goes luxe," it said. "Idyllic white sand beaches, secluded, little-known surf towns and pristine reefs are among the natural draws of this country made up of over 7,000 tropical islands."
However, we might need to pause and consider if we can live up to the hype. In other words, when the hordes of tourists egged on by such endorsements - welcome and much-needed as they are - do come, will they find conditions here as welcoming and comfortable as they need to be? Will their stay be something that not only will they be happy about as visitors, but we will also be proud of as hosts?
President Beningo Aquino has said he remains worried about the peace and order situation in the country. "While it is important for all to acknowledge that great strides have been made in suppressing criminality in our country, I will also be the first to admit that much work remains to be done," Aquino said recently.
That work should include beefing up security for tourism-related purposes, now that the country expects a major uptick in visitor arrivals with the Philippines' fast-improving image abroad. This cannot, however, be the kind of ad hoc, superficial "police visibility" campaigns that are so often trotted out whenever a surge in street crimes happens.
A comprehensive programme for tourist safety and security is needed, because foreign visitors are simply the best advertisements money can't buy. If they find their sojourns in any of our cities, towns or islands safe and more than pleasant, chances are they'll be the first to tell others in their home countries that the blurbs weren't exaggerating; the Philippines is indeed worth a visit.
They'd be hard-pressed to do that, however, if they feel unsafe walking in our streets, or are fleeced by unscrupulous taxi-drivers right out of the airport, or with pickpockets victimising them in the malls.
Infrastructure, too, needs a serious look. The international travel magazines are rightly enthused about the raft of luxury accommodations springing up in the country's choice spots but, at a more basic level, the government needs to upgrade facilities to make the country ready for the influx of tourists. That should begin with the antiquated disgrace that is the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which, until now, represents a distressing first impression for first-time visitors to the Philippines.
Now that the world's gaze is on us, we'd better make sure we have the wherewithal to follow through. Our famous hospitality alone won't cut it.