Philippines, Travel News

Department of Tourism recognizes its “Tourism Stars”

When I started this blog, my reason was to show everyone how going places don’t have to be extensive. I have detailed my travels in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, expressing how by proper planning, one can always go where your wandering can take you without the prohibitive cost. But as time goes on, I noticed that I have been remissed in featuring places from my own country, the Philippines.

When I was younger, I had the pleasure of being able to go places just because I work for Negros Navigation (now 2Go Shipping), which was one of the country’s longest-serving inter-island shipping company. My stay with Negros Navigation allowed me to see Palawan, Cagayan de Oro, Roxas City, Bacolod, Iloilo, Cebu, Aklan, Boracay, Marawi and Iligan all while serving thousands and thousands of Filipinos who still travel and traverse this country and its many islands through passenger ships. I met a lot of wonderful people–dedicated people actually–whose living was directly correlated to Tourism. They were the many tour guides, ship captains, stewards & F&B people, the tourism officers who welcomed us to their offices and even the local businesses who never ceased to provide exceptional service to their guests.

When I left Negros Navigation, my local travel also diminished greatly. The advent of low fares, plus my obsession with budget traveling, has made going to foreign countries more possible, and yes more affordable. This year, I vowed to visit the country more and make my version of traveling on a budget locally.

This decision was amplified when I had the opportunity to attend the Department of Tourism (DOT)’s awarding of its first-ever batch of “Tourism Stars” – comprised of a select group of individuals who was nominated and voted by the public who displayed commitment and dedication in promoting Philippine tourism.

tourismStar awards-Screengrab from DOT's Instagram Account
The first batch of Tourism Star awardees, from L to R: Albay Governor Joey Salceda; media personality and host of Biyahe ni Drew, Drew Arellano; blogger Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet; diver Bobby Andrao and young tourist guide Gerry Bie Dalimag (PHOTO GRAB FROM DOT INSTAGRAM PAGE)

The Department of Tourism (DOT) honors today the first batch of individuals who have exemplified excellence and dedication in driving the Philippine tourism industry forward, under the Tourism Star Philippines (TSP) program.

Tourism Star Philippines is a recognition program developed to celebrate the valuable contribution of Filipinos from the tourism industry, media, and local government units. Through TSP, DOT seeks to underscore the distinct Filipino brand of warm hospitality that marks our culture of tourism.

The very first roster of Tourism Stars include Gerry BieDalimag and Bobby Adrao for the Individual Category; Drew Arellano of Biyaheni Drew in GMA-7 and Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet for the Media Category; and Governor Joey Salceda of Albay for the Local Chief Executive (LCE) Category.


Dalimag, a college student who serves as a local volunteer guide around the famous Callao Caves in Cagayan. At a very young age, he has helped in boosting the province’s local tourism by taking his guiding responsibilities to heart, which earned him the respect and commendation from various people and even the media.


Adrao, on the other hand, is a licensed Butanding interaction officer and a dive master in Donsol, Sorsogon. In addition to advocating safe and environment-friendly diving practices, Adrao represents a Filipino tourism frontliner who goes beyond the call of duty to save the lives of an Australian couple who went adrift in the rough seas while diving due to inclement weather.

Popular celebrity Arellano headlines a local TV show called Biyaheni Drew, which features fun travel adventures in different Philippine destination every week. Known for his quirky and entertaining brand of hosting, Arellano successfully embodies the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” concept. Diaz, meanwhile, is the man behind Our Awesome Planet (, a top lifestyle blog that showcases the best of food and travel destinations in the Philippines. Founded in 2005, it has generated thousands of followers and readers that are able to share his experiences and discoveries in various places in the country.

Governor Salceda, who is receiving the award in the LCE category, led the Albay region’s phenomenal growth in tourism as it rose from the ruins of disasters that stunted the province for decades. As former economic adviser to previous presidents, Governor Salceda has successfully implemented a comprehensive tourism work program in Albay, bringing to the fore various regulations and investment projects to achieve significant tourism development.

Anchored on DOT’s It’s more fun in the Philippines campaign, the Tourism Star Philippines also marks a significant milestone for the agency, as it is part of the full implementation of the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) which leverages on public-private sector partnerships to improve competitiveness of tourism facilities and services, capacitate local government units, ensure sustainable tourism development and initiate focused marketing and promotions.

Among the nominees received from February to June 2014, DOT implemented a rigorous selection process for those who demonstrated the strongest and deepest commitment to promote the country’s tourism in their own ways. For the Individual Category, nominations were received through the program website and through drop boxes located at domestic airport terminals nationwide. Meanwhile, Local Tourism Councils nominated their mayors or governors for the LCE Category by submitting the completely filled out nomination form with the documentary requirements to concerned DOT Regional Offices. Nominations for the Media Category, which was added two months after the launch, were solicited from Tourism and Travel Associations nationwide.

After the screening process, a final evaluation was conducted by the TSP Screening Committee composed of representatives from the DOT’s Office of the Undersecretary for Tourism Regulation, Coordination, and Resource Generation (TRCRG) and Office of Tourism Standards and Regulation (OTSR), as well as the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP), one of the program’s institutional partners. All submitted documentary requirements were validated through the help of the DOT Regional Offices and the local tourism offices. For the LCE Category, documents were rated using the following criteria: Institutional, promotions, planning and product development, regulatory, investments, and centrepiece projects with additional points in consideration of their support to DOT advocacies. Media nominees, on the other hand, were chosen based on the votes they received through online voting; content and substance and relevance of work to the Philippine tourism industry; impact and significant contribution to the It’s More Fun in the Philippines campaign; creativity and uniqueness of shows/ articles and information presented.

Awardees of Tourism Stars Philippines will receive trophies and medals, as well as gifts from program partners: a pre-loaded More Fun Prepaid card from the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), scholarship from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), phones and tablets from MyPhone, and a kabuhayan package from Duty Free Philippines (DFP).


“The Philippine tourism is undoubtedly the fastest growing industry in the country, taking on a significant role in our economy. We believe that we owe this tremendous growth to our people. Without them, our destinations would only be a mere landscape. It is our people that give these beautiful destinations life and meaning. And the Tourism Star Program honors these individuals who truly make it more fun in the Philippines,” DOT Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. said.

Article is part of my coverage of the recently concluded Tourism Star Awards, made possible through the invitation of the DOT.

Travel News

Are you an FCB fan? Here’s a TVC you will enjoy!

My sister and the hubby are big FC Barcelona fans — so this TV commercial is for them. Props to Qatar Airways for coming up with a TVC that highlights the partnership with one of the premiere football clubs in the world through a TVC that is just enjoyable to watch.

I am not a big fan and I do not follow (European) football like the sis and the hubby do, but for an avid traveler, this is a land I don’t mind going. Who would say “no” to football footwork/”dance” lessons with Messi? Not me, definitely!

FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona

Incidentally, did you know that one of FC Barcelona’s legendary players was a Pinoy? His name is Paulino Alcantara and he is considered as FCB’s first ever superstar. For the longest time, he held the record as Barca’s All-Time Top Scorer, until Leo Messi surpassed this record last March 2014.

Travel News

Green Frog Hybrid Bus: New Transportation Option in Manila



The Green Frog Hybrid Bus is the latest option when you want to travel from Manila to Makati (and vice versa) in a safe and comfortable manner. If you are familiar with the buses the ply Hong Kong and particularly Singapore, then you will be pleasantly surprise to see them (or something that looks like them) plying the streets of Manila.

Launched just recently, Green Frog Buses initially have two buses that travel the LRT-Taft to C5 Kalayaan Makati route. Within the Buendia stretch, there are specially-marked areas where the buses load and unload their passengers.

Bus Stops for the 2 initial units

Bus Stops for the 2 initial units

Due to the limited bus units and Manila’s usual traffic congestion, waiting for the Green Frog Bus can take a long time. For some enterprising commuters, especially those in the CBD area, they resorted to getting the bus’ cellphone numbers which they call to check the location of the bus and to gauge their waiting time. Earlier, during the rush hour travel from C5 Kalayaan to Taft-LRT, the bus conductor answered one call after another — providing commuters with valuable information on the location of the buses.

So what’s the advantage of riding the Green Frog Hybrid Bus:

1. Value for Money – Green Frog has a flat rate, PHP20 for outright cash and PHP15 when you use the Green Frog debit card. The Debit Card can be bought for PHP200 with 10 usable credits (amounting to PHP150) and PHP50 deposit for buying the card. You pay just like how you pay in other countries, by tapping the card against the machine attached near the driver’s seat.



Earlier, I noticed that all the passengers preferred to pay outright in cash than purchase the card. When the card was offered to me by the lady conductor, I told her I will buy when there are already additional units of the Hybrid Bus plying the streets. This way, they’ll have a more definite waiting time for bus arrival and I can maximize usage of the card.

2. Cleanliness – unlike other Manila buses that smelled of sweat, saliva and crude oil, the Hybrid Bus smelled fresh and clean. The driver and the lady conductor was dressed neatly in their uniforms (the green and orange combo shown in the first photo above). Since it was raining very hard, the lady conductor would often wipe the wet areas of the bus with a foot rug. The aircon was also cold so very conducive to traveling especially when you are stuck in traffic.

3. Safety and comfort – seats inside the Hybrid Bus are limited, but the body is wide enough to accommodate those who will stand in the aisles. Entrance is by the front door while exit is exclusively at the middle doors. Doors are kept closed during travel.



4. Courteous staff – Both the conductor and the driver are courteous and very professional. When a heavily-pregnant lady entered the bus, the conductor politely asked a gentleman if the lady can have this seat. The man graciously agreed. The conductor was also very mindful of the passenger’s safety, while the driver was careful but very efficient as he traveled Manila’s wet roads due to the constant raining.

The Green Bus is a good way to see Makati — and the bus stops conveniently connects you to other parts of the city. For example, alighting the Ayala stop would bring you the central business district, the Ayala Museum and Greenbelt Chapel (with one transfers) while the last LRT-Taft is gateway to the Mall of Asia and Baywalk.

Hopefully, the next buses will be here before Christmas (the conductor says they’re due for delivery by September). This is something that the city and the country definitely needs. In fact, I hope Green Frog will consider an airport route. In times like these when airport taxi drivers get you iffy, a safe and comfortable transport going in and out of the airport would be nice.

Travel News

A new and improved NAIA I airport in this lifetime?

Note: Re-posted from the KamikazeeGirl WordPress site

Please send some good vibes for the Philippines. It seems, after years and years of neglect, our aging airport, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport is now finally getting a much-needed face lift. If the hype is to be believed, the airport should be good and ready by 2015. Gods be good, we are getting a new airport in this lifetime!

From Yahoo Philippines:

Finally, NAIA Terminal I getting much-needed facelift

Manila’s oldest airport terminal is getting a much-needed facelift. This, through the help of renowned Filipino interior designer Kenneth Cobonpue and architectural firm Leandro V. Locsin and Associates, who will lead the makeover of “the world’s worst airport.”

In a press conference, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda confirmed the rehabilitation of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 will soon proceed. “The Cobonpue Group will be allowed to do the interiors of NAIA 1 building with Architect (Andy) Locson handling the architectural services,” Lacierda said.

“For the greeter’s area, it will still be Architect Locsin doing the conceptual design and the architect of record. The Cobonpue Group will help out in the interiors,” he clarified. The best thing about this? Well, Cobonpue, designer Budji Layug, and architect Royal Pineda are doing this for free, following their submission of the pro-bono concept on NAIA Terminal rehabilitation after several Cabinet secretaries asked for their help in 2011.

“The Cobonpue Group has offered their services pro bono and we thank them for that,” Lacierda noted.
Cobonpue is an internationally-renowned designer and has clients such as Angelina Jolie, among others.
Locsin is meanwhile the son of National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, whose masterpieces include the Cultural Center of the Philippines and several notable buildings at the University of the Philippines campuses.

In 2011, the government awarded the contract of rehabilitation program to Leandro V. Locsin and Associates, which originally designed NAIA Terminal 1. The design of Cobonpue’s group, which included an overhaul of interiors to enable faster flow of travelers between security and departure, was however shelved.

Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya announced they will focus on the renovation of NAIA Terminal 1’s greeters’ area. Cobonpue doubts the P2.8 billion-rehabilitation project will be done in time for the 27th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which will be held in Manila in 2015. The summit is expected to gather about 24,000 participants from over 21 APEC-member economies.

Let’s hope things will go according to plan because God knows we need a new airport. We’ve been voted the worst airport in the world – a feat that we think we truly deserved considering how awful the airport was. I have previously written before the unspeakable horrors we’ve experienced stuck there at the NAIA I Greeters area and truth be told, it was one of the rare moments where we wanted to kill ourselves rather than remain stuck in that God-forsaken area.

Along with the changes in the airport, we really wish that the management will also be improved. Because sad as this may sound, eve if we have the nicest airport in the world, if it is run by incompetent people then the changes will only be temporary. A world-class airport needs world class management. Rather than hiring typical career government officials, we think that a person with F&B and hotel experience is the best person suited for the job.To put it bluntly, we need someone who thinks how travelers think — someone who can anticipate travelers’ needs and offer long-term solutions, not just band aid solutions.

For now, I wait with bated breath (and lots of positive vibes) how this story will progress. Hopefully, our leaders will finally walk the talk. The Filipino people deserved a good airport, the same way that our guests from foreign countries deserved a safe and comfortable transit to and from the Philippines.

Manila!, Philippines, Travel News

Thrills, deals and a whole lot more at PTAA’s Travel Tour Expo 2013

For the second year in a row, I never failed to visit the staging of PTAA’s Travel Tour Expo, held from February 15 to 17 at the SMX Convention Center at the MOA Grounds in Pasay City.

While all my trips are D-I-Y and would prefer it to stay that way, the numerous promos and gimmicks offered by participants (airline copanies, embassies, travel offices of many countries and of course, travel agencies.)

I went during the 2nd day of the 3-day exhibit. It was 1PM and the exhibition wall was packed to the rafters, people were streaming endlessly – booking land tours (saw one going for just USD92 for a 3-day, 2-night land arrangement package), queuing for plane tickets (CebPac has the longest lines) and participating on some of the games and promotional activities offered by booths.

My cousin and I zeroed in immediately on the booth by the Hong Kong Tourism Board to get free HK maps and a pamphlets describing attractions, which will come handy when they visit this March. We also asked around for suitable land arrangements which they can use (they already have tickets), but truth be told — all arrangements seemed restrictive and not as cheap when you consider all the expenses in one go. Anyway, they came back again for the third day and decided to forego buying a land arrangement and ended with discounted Disney tickets instead.

While studying some of the brochures I got, I noticed an advert for a Tokyo trip going for almost USD1,000 – I keep thinking that maybe I should use that as a parameter on how much I should save if I really intend to go to Tokyo before my 35th birthday.

Here are some of the pictures:




Big Bang premium item displayed at the Jeju Air Booth (selling USD888 for a 4 day, 3 night tour)

Big Bang premium item displayed at the Jeju Air Booth (selling USD888 for a 4 day, 3 night tour)


The Japan Booth is swamped with people

The Japan Booth is swamped with people

obviously -- happy and excited!

obviously — happy and excited!

performers from Malaysia

performers from Malaysia

got a copy of maps and travel guides (SK, BKK, TPE, MNL)

got a copy of maps and travel guides (SK, BKK, TPE, MNL)

I’ll definitely attend the next one next year. Who knows, I might attend this time with Japan travel in mind and not just to get ideas on how much it will cost to go from point A to B.

Travel News

Conde Nast Traveler names The Philippines as one of the “Travel Destinations” to watch in 2013

Oh my! Conde Nast Traveler, one of the premiere travel magazines in the world today, has included good ol’ PH as one of the destinations to watch in 2013.

See here the amazing recommendation for the Philippines:

“For travellers willing to go the extra thousand miles for a deserted beach, the Philippines has around 7,000 of the most heavenly islands in the world. It’s still not the most obvious beach-holiday destination, but it soon will be.

It’s becoming particularly popular among serious divers, who come for the incredible underwater life, unspoilt coral gardens with rainbow-bright fish, green sea turtles and dugongs. In Bicol you can swim with the biggest fish in the world, the whale shark. While fish-fans of a different nature can go deep-sea fishing in one of the deepest trenches in the oceans, not far from the little-known island of Siargao.

The archipelago of Palawan ticks all the boxes: palm-fringed white-powder beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, natural lagoons for wild swimming on Miniloc Island – all of it protected by UNESCO. Its Bacuit Bay is something like Halong Bay in Vietnam, only without all the tourists – for the time being, at least. There are just a handful of resorts, which are tasteful and deliberately low-key. Two of the newest are Ariara Island and El Nido Pangulasian Island, a private-island resort with palm-thatched villas, a spa, its own dive centre, and sea views to melt the heart.

Another super-stylish new opening is Dedon Island, on Siargao; it’s owned and designed by contemporary furniture brand Dedon. And a perennial favourite is Amanpulo, yet another high-design private-island hotel on Pamalican Island. Or sail around them all on Alila’s new boat, the Phinsi.”

The current online issue also includes a guide to discovering the many facets of the Philippines.

That indeed is good news. Considering the hard work being put in by the Department of Tourism (DOT) which seemed to experience a resurgence following the appointment of Secretary Ramon Jimenez. A former ad man, Secretary Jimenez was able to bring interest back to this country of 7,000 islands. Maybe it’s the catchy campaign, “Its More Fun in the Philippines” or the fact that our best beaches are being discovered by the rest of the world just now. Truth is, the emergence of the Philippines as a top travel destination is something that this government should take seriously.

Here are the things that should be our top priority:

1. The Airport
On top of our obvious concerns would be that danged prehistoric building called, “The Ninoy Aquino Internal Airport, Terminal I.” The reputation of this terminal is lower than the Marianas Trench. It’s been called the worst by some of the world’s leading travel sites and yet still, it is still in operation (leaky faucets, unappetizing lounge food, stomach-churning arrivals waiting area and all.)

I really hope the government can do something about this airport, and not just be proud of the fact that “travelers are out of the NAIA in 25 minutes flat.” I don’t know what this tourism executive is smoking, but I can assure him that given the facilities in that airport, I’ll strive to be out of there too in 25 minutes flat, maybe 20 minutes if I am really desperate. If you have nothing to do inside the dimly-lit, aging building, would you want to stay there?

I can understand the hesitation to leave if there’s no available facility to use, but we have the humongous Terminal 3 gathering dust and sorely underutilized. I hope that this year, more international flights will get transferred to T3.

2. Reliable transportation system to get in and out of the airports
The few countries I’ve been to had one thing in common: an efficient transportation system that allows travelers to get in and out of the airport using their transpo of choice. Meaning, they are not stuck with cabs — and can opt to use the MRT (linked directly to the airport, like in HK and SG) or by bus with direct routes to the airport (in Seoul and Busan). Unfortunately, right now, all we can offer are “official” airport cabs that will charge you an arm and a leg just to be able to travel. Let’s not make it hard for the tourists. While we are at it, can we do something about dilapidated cabs that smelled like a forgotten public rest room.

3. Safety!
Every country has its security and safety problem. But, it gets really embarrassing whenever we hear tourists being mugged or taken for a ride by touts. I hope that the government will make tourists feel more secure traveling our country. After all, it’s the memories they make that will either keep them coming back or make them stay away for good.

These are the things that are on top of my mind. I know that they’re basic requirements for every traveler, something that can make or break a trip.