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Published: Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 8:43:15 AM

It’s more fun in the Philippines

You’d think tourists would be a timorous crowd, that they’d go only where they think it’s safe to go. Not where it’s safe, but where they think it is. That should mean a windfall for the Philippines, as Thailand-heading vacationers think twice, for example.

But the statistics don’t seem to say so. Tourist arrivals in the Philippines reached 4.68 million last year — a mere 10% increase from 4.27 million in 2012. Meanwhile, Thailand’s visitors in 2013 increased by 20%, or 4.4 million, to 26.7 million from 22.3 million in 2012. Thailand’s increase equalled the Philippines’ total! And the tourists were probably right: The reality of Thailand is that the demonstrations were in Bangkok only, and only a part of Bangkok at that. Elsewhere, life went on as usual.

Tourists are a faddish crowd, they go where the “in” place is. That varies with the type of tourist: backpackers versus baby boomers versus oldies. Backpackers go where it’s exciting and cheap, oldies where it’s comfortable and hassle-free, and those in the middle where there’s something new and unusual.

Backpackers eat at quick-service restaurants, oldies at swanky hotels where they can sit and eat comfortably. (I’ve never understood why oldies, or anyone else, take a cruise. I can’t think of anything more hideous than being stuck in a cloistered enclosure with unvarying menu, music you probably don’t like, people you may or may not but have no option but to like. And nothing to see but wave after wave. Oh, and the sporadic organised city tour.)

There are two tourism sectors that the Philippine government must promote more actively: medical tourism and retirement. Both are attractive ideas, retirement especially. The genuinely loving care and respect for the elderly (I sure love that) versus the Westerners’ “plonk them in an old people’s home” attitude add to a favourable climate and a place where a pension can go a long way. The desirability is certainly there, and it’s only a few hours away for the kids to visit during birthdays and Christmas. What more could one want?

But there’s an IF for retirement: medical services. Older people break down, they have more need of medical assistance, quite often very quickly. Rapid access to one of those machines that get one’s heart going again is kind of comforting to have.

The Philippines now has some excellent, world-class hospitals and doctors, but they’re all in Manila. As I discovered quite rudely when I had a very nasty fall recently, such excellence doesn’t exist in the provinces.

The ICU in the hospital in Pagsanjan, Laguna, to where I was taken had only a blood pressure monitor, a bottle of oxygen and an old medical bed. In the areas where paradise reigns, where one would want to retire, there must be first-class geriatric medical services. That’s an essential first: quality emergency services available in minutes.

Which brings us to medical services. There’s no question – and again I’ve had the personal experience to back this – but that Filipino doctors can meet the best anywhere, yet until recently didn’t have the equipment and medical facilities of a modern hospital. Now they do.

One can get medical treatment at a fraction of the cost with equal quality. The only fly in the ointment is insurance. Health services generally cover only treatment at home, as do some insurance schemes.

So if one seeks treatment here, one pays for it. That must limit the attraction. Still, if one is paying for it, or if one’s insurance covers it, this is the place to do it.

Me, the other niche I’d be targeting is the businessmen. Encourage them to plan their business trip for the end of the week and have their family join them for a (long) weekend.

These are the guys with money to spend. But it means that an upgrade of many of the facilities is needed, and making getting there a stress-free experience.

Tags / Keywords: Regional, Philippines; Tourism

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