DestinationsOne country, 7,641 islands — the Philippines rolls out over 100 new tourism circuits as part of its post-Covid tourism strategy.

7,641 ways to have fun in the Philippines

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Philippines aims to reignite travellers’ sense of adventure by highlighting unique things to do across its 7,641 islands.
Philippines aims to reignite travellers’ sense of adventure by highlighting unique things to do across its 7,641 islands. Photo Credit: GettyImages/Sheena Bustamante

Two years after the world ground to a halt, the Philippines finally reopened its doors to fully vaccinated travellers on 1 April 2022. A key question that occupies the minds of the country’s tourism stakeholders is: How do we entice tourists back to our islands as the world opens up again?

During the pandemic-induced pause in travel, the Department of Tourism (DOT) worked with various partners in developing a total of 112 new tourism circuits across the country’s 14 regions. The tourism products and experiences focus on tourism highlights across the Philippines’ culinary heritage, history and natural features. It also includes experiences in wellness and farm tourism. The tourism chief also announced that an additional 102 tourism circuits are currently in development.

These tourism circuits form the bulk of features in the DOT’s new digital magazine, 7641, a reference to the official number of islands that comprise the Philippine archipelago.

The content push is part of the Department’s efforts at reigniting travellers’ sense of adventure and getting them to explore various corners of the country. It features circuits such as the Bike Trails of Bicol and Central Visayas, Camiguin and Misamis Oriental’s Green Adventure Loop, Davao’s Dive Tourism, Boracay Food Crawl, Farm Tours in the southern Mindanao region also known as SOCCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Saranggani and General Santos City), and the Interregional Cuisine and Culture of Ilocos, Central Luzon, and Cordillera.

Other preparations include non-health related security measures. In mid-March, the DOT inked a partnership with the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to beef up security in tourist destinations, in anticipation of a rise in inbound traffic.

In April 2022, the Philippine capital also hosted the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) 21st Global Summit.

“We saw how the international borders affected the jobs and livelihoods of the tourism sector,” adds Puyat. “Given this, I am excited to welcome fully vaccinated tourists from all countries once again, but I am even more excited about seeing the jobs and livelihoods of our tourism workers and stakeholders restored, following our full reopening.”

Tourism plays an important role in maintaining the Philippines’ overall economic health. In 2019, the tourism sector contributed 12.7% to the Philippine GDP, providing up to 5.71 million jobs. It was among the most badly hit sectors during the pandemic, accounting for a significant percentage of overall job losses in the country.

5 destinations in the Philippines to visit now

1. Siargao

Cloud 9 Siargao is rated as the most popular surfing area in the Philippines, and one of the hottest spots for to hang out on Siargao island.
Cloud 9 Siargao is rated as the most popular surfing area in the Philippines, and one of the hottest spots for to hang out on Siargao island. Photo Credit: GettyImages/ValentinAyupov

Best known as a surfing destination, Siargao was badly damaged during last year’s Typhoon Odette, a Category 5-equivalent typhoon that made landfall on 16 December.

A reported 90% of structures were badly damaged, including the iconic Cloud 9 tower, which offers a front-row seat to the competitions of the surf season, usually held in September in the Cloud 9 surfing spot. But recovery and reconstruction are underway, and several resorts and restaurants have reopened to welcome visitors.

2. Pampanga

Pork sisig is best sampled in Pampanga, the birth place of this dish.
Pork sisig is best sampled in Pampanga, the birth place of this dish. Photo Credit: GettyImages/bonchan

“If you are looking for food based on our agricultural past, find your way to Pampanga,” advises PR consultant Joey Suarez. “[Pampangueño cuisine], built on the everyday challenges of the working farmer, has created dishes considered hallmarks of Philippine cuisine around the globe.”

While Filipino cuisine as a whole is having a moment on the world stage, multiple efforts in the Philippines – by chefs, writers, strategists, and the Department of Tourism itself – are fuelling the buzz and shaping the narrative around food. A visit to Pampanga for a taste of its renowned dishes, including the popular sisig (minced pig cheeks, ears and snout, mixed with onion and seasoned with calamansi and soy sauce), is both educational and delicious.

3. Bacolod, Negros

Ornate smiling masks for sale in a street stall at the San Sebastian Cathedral entry for the MassKara annual festival held in Bacolod.
Ornate smiling masks for sale in a street stall at the San Sebastian Cathedral entry for the MassKara annual festival held in Bacolod. Photo Credit: GettyImages/rweisswald

Bacolod, and the neighbouring city of Silay, in Negros island offers a similar experience in terms of food adventures – the local cuisine being a highlight of any visit – but it’s also an ideal destination for art lovers and heritage buffs.

Visitors can get a peek into the country’s intriguing past in the preserved and restored grand ancestral homes of a former ruling class whose family fortunes were tied to sugar, the Philippines’ most important agricultural export in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Bacolod is also a centre of Philippine contemporary art, and an entire art district, anchored on artist Charlie Co’s Orange Gallery, showcases some of the most exciting works currently being produced in the country.

4. Boracay

Willy's Rock is one of the most notable landmarks in Boracay, featuring and oddly-shaped volcanic formation with a statue of Virgin Mary.
Willy's Rock is one of the most notable landmarks in Boracay, featuring and oddly-shaped volcanic formation with a statue of Virgin Mary. Photo Credit: GettyImages/saiko3p

The Philippines is synonymous with palm-studded islands surrounded by crystalline seas, the most popular of which is the dog-bone shaped island Boracay, best-known for the unparalleled quality of its powder-fine white sands.

But in recent years the island has been hobbled by closures – first for six months in 2018, when then Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the island to be rehabilitated (chief among its environmental problems was sewage management), and then redeveloped. The island was closed again during the pandemic. Now, visitors to Boracay have been raving about an atmosphere akin to the island’s early days as a tropical idyll.

5. El Nido, Palawan

El Nido is known for white-sand beaches, coral reefs and fish-filled waters.
El Nido is known for white-sand beaches, coral reefs and fish-filled waters. Photo Credit: GettyImages/simongurney

Just as stunning is El Nido, Palawan, where a vastly different landscape offers a different kind of sand-to-sea adventure. While there’s no shortage of beautiful beaches here, it’s the lagoons in craggy karst fortresses that provide the real enchantment.

Snorkelling and diving are the prime draws of El Nido, where the underwater attractions – reefs alive with colourful coral and sea creatures – are living proof of the country’s rich marine biodiversity. Luxury island resorts that abound in the area likewise make El Nido the perfect choice for a getaway that marries outdoor adventures and hotel comforts.

3 new hotels to anticipate

1. NUSTAR Resort and Casino, Cebu

NUSTAR Resort and Casino is set to be Cebu's newest five-star integrated destination, featuring three hotel towers adding over 1,000 rooms to the city's inventory.
NUSTAR Resort and Casino is set to be Cebu's newest five-star integrated destination, featuring three hotel towers adding over 1,000 rooms to the city's inventory.

NUSTAR is a new five-star integrated resort with venues for gaming, entertainment, events, shopping and dining. Built on reclaimed land, the property will feature, among others, three hotel towers and over 1,000 rooms, a 580-metre boardwalk, and a 21,000sqm casino with 250 tables, claimed to be the region’s largest. The hotels, scheduled to open next month, are expected to meet a projected high demand for rooms in Cebu, a popular destination among domestic and international travellers. Cebu, home to the Mactan International Airport, is also a gateway to the rest of the country.

2. Discovery Samal, Davao

Discovery Samal is set to open this year on Samal Island, two kilometres off the coast of the southern city of Davao.
Discovery Samal is set to open this year on Samal Island, two kilometres off the coast of the southern city of Davao.

Set to open in 2022, Discovery Samal promises design-led tropical luxury in Samal Island, two kilometres from the coast of Davao. The main building, designed by architect Ed Ledesma of ELL, is a minimalist masterpiece of infinity pools, private plunge pools, and rooms with window walls that look out on Davao Gulf.

3. Hotel Okura, Manila

The 190-room Hotel Okura, Manila within the Resorts World complex, is expected to be fully operational this year.
The 190-room Hotel Okura, Manila within the Resorts World complex, is expected to be fully operational this year.

Although Hotel Okura Manila began soft operations in late 2021, the property is expected to be fully operational in the first half of this year. The 190-room luxury property within the Resorts World complex in Manila, where suites are fragrant with the scent of Japanese hinoki, promises an elevated Japanese sense of hospitality with a touch of Filipino warmth.

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