MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines' tourism sector is catching up with its neighbours and is more optimistic on its prospects with the ASEAN integration moving into full swing by 2015, tourism officials said on Friday.
"We are really catching up in terms of standardization in the tourism industry. We have to be at par with the competencies of our ASEAN neighbours," said Cesar Cruz, president of the Philippine Tour Operators' Association (Philtoa) which leads a three-day travel trade exposition called the Philippine Travel Mart from Sept 5 to Sept. 7.
The Philippine Travel Mart, where travelers can find travel and holiday packages and airline tickets on sale, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
The vision of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) integration which seeks to create a single market and production base through the free flow of goods, services and funds by 2015 is evident during the travel sale held at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.
Apart from the country's best and emerging tourist destinations, some destinations in other ASEAN countries were also presented to prospective travelers.
As part of the Philtoa's support for the ASEAN integration efforts, it presented travelers packages it called "twinnings" where they can choose one of their favourite Philippine destinations and pair this with another destination in another ASEAN country.
"They can choose Boracay and Bali or Cebu and Singapore," Cruz said in an interview. This, he said, their group is doing in support of the idea of the "borderless" travel.
But Cruz sees some problems once the ASEAN integration goes on full swing by the end of 2015.
"With our entry level skills, the Filipinos will be lagging behind our Asian neighbours since we have just started our K to 12 system," he said.
K to 12 programme, which has added two years to the country's basic education cycle, was implemented in 2013 through a law signed by the President.
But he said there are remedies for the tourism industry. "We are initiating short courses for tourism professionals just to fill in the gap," he said.
Philtoa, an organisation of 352 tour operators in the country, also plans to set up a tourism academy in Makati that will offer short tourism courses.
Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez who attended the event on Friday said the tourism industry is becoming more optimistic, especially with the ASEAN integration fully realised by next year.
"The attitude of the Filipinos towards tourism has changed completely. There is a willingness to learn and perform better than we did before and that includes our ability to catch up," Jimenez said.
The tourism sector has began to consider the advantages of including in the marketing its neighbours in the region.
"The world doesn't just travel in just one specific place. The people go to a region, especially if they have come from a far place. What is good for Philippine tourism is good for ASEAN tourism," he said.
"We will bridge the gap. If we have to smile wider, we will," Jimenez said.
Earlier, Jimenez announced that his department would be launching a campaign "Visit Philippines Year 2015" to capitalise on the successes of the earlier "It's more fun in the Philippines."
The tourism sector in the Philippines has become a serious business, growing into a US$4.8 billion (S$6 billion) industry as of last year.