The Philippine Tour Operators Association or PHILTOA is a 34-year-old organization of tour operators and allied members actively promoting responsible domestic tourism. Its current membership of 480 also includes travel agencies, hotels, resorts, transportation companies, handicraft stores, and other tourism-related establishments and associations.
It is currently the leading inbound and domestic tourism association, actively contributing to the country’s economic growth. It prides itself on having extensive global affiliations with foreign enterprises that also promote domestic Philippine tourism.
At the same time, it ensures continuous skills upgrading of its members by providing them with dynamic, proactive training and product development programs, keeping their business proficiency and capabilities up to par with their counterparts in other countries.
PHILTOA continues to strive for international recognition through its foreign affiliations and sees to it that its members are always made aware of relevant national issues, especially those pertaining to the tourism industry.
The Philippine Travel Mart is the longest running interactive tourism exposition in the country, featuring our local destinations. It started approximately 30 years ago as an exhibition event hosted by our Department of Tourism (DOT). In 1989, the DOT entrusted the event to be managed and operated by PHILTOA and, since then, the association has driven Travel Mart to the pinnacle of success.
The exhibit and tour packages offered in the past years highlighted not only the country’s more popular destinations but also those that have just been developed and were not yet familiar to holidaymakers and fun-lovers.
The common denominator for all these offerings was the association’s advocacy to keep sustainable tourism and local community engagement a priority. As the years progressed, the Friday-to-Sunday exhibition evolved to include attractive Asian destinations, to further whet the travel appetite of our countrymen.
Travel Mart has become so popular that local travel bugs look forward to it every year, so they can purchase tours to new domestic Philippine destinations at very affordable prices. Last year’s edition had 230 booths, representing as many destinations and enterprises, occupying all four massive halls of the SMX Convention Center at the Mall of Asia complex.
Its main feature was the Sale Ng Bayan, which offered as much as 70 percent discount on travel packages, accommodations, and airfare to many domestic destinations.
Since PHILTOA has made it a point to highlight new discoveries for travelers to explore, last year’s event rolled out a tour package for Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga which immediately became popular among the attendees. Another “newbie” last year was Camiguin, the packaged tours of which offered to bring visitors closer to nature through the island’s seaside and terrain attractions.
However, based on onsite sales, the most popular local destinations through the years continue to be Boracay and the various “gems” of Palawan—Puerto Princesa, San Vicente, Coron, and El Nido.
This year, the attractive Boracay booth was right at the entrance to the venue and still drew in those who were curious about the attractive packages the world-class beach destination had to offer.
With the current pandemic forcing the local travel industry to hibernate, I was actually resigned to the fact that the Travel Mart would be cancelled this year. But, lo and behold, Cesar Cruz, PHILTOA’s energetic president, hard-working, and with the never-say-die spirit of a true tourism professional, decided to push through with it. Naturally, those of us in the industry marvel at his courage and audacity to stage it in the face of the expected decrease in participants and attendees.
Although staged in a much smaller venue, this year’s event still had the same “oomph” and bravura as those in the previous years. There were only 25 booths as most of the previous years’ participants from the various provinces had to wrestle with the current quarantine issue which may prevent future clients from having easy access to the destinations they represent.
This year’s Travel Mart may have been sparsely attended, yet it bannered the winning form of our travel industry professionals, as represented by PHILTOA President Cesar Cruz.
The whole world now knows that no pandemic, no natural catastrophe, nor any political upheaval could make us cower in fear and desperation. Instead, these seemingly insurmountable challenges shoot our adrenaline up and make us even bigger and stronger than whatever predicament we’re in.
As a part of this industry, and having witnessed Cesar Cruz’s display of true grit, I can proudly say, “Watch our tourism industry rise again to even greater heights!”
YOUR WEEKEND CHUCKLE
A priest, a minister, and a rabbi each go into the woods, find a bear and attempt to convert it. They later compared notes. The priest said, “I read to him passages from the Bible and sprinkled him with Holy Water. Next week is his First Communion.” The minister boasted, “I preached God’s Holy Word, he was so mesmerized that he let me baptize him.” Then, they both look down at the rabbi who is lying on a gurney in a body cast. “Looking back,” the rabbi lamented, “I shouldn’t have started with the circumcision!”
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