By Katlene O. Cacho
Sunday, November 4, 2012
A GROUP of top travel and tour operators from Morocco visited Cebu over the long weekend to explore the province’s potential as a leisure destination for Moroccan tourists.
According to Angel Ramos Bognot, president and managing director of Afro Asian Travel & Tours Inc., the group’s first familiarization tour to the Philippines was meant to promote the country as leisure destination.
Bognot said Moroccan tourists are now eyeing Asia as a new destination for family vacation, luxury, leisure and incentive travels.
“They have been actively selling Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia but not the Philippines,” she said.
Bognot said Moroccan tourists initially thought of the Philippines as a labor traffic country and not a leisure destination.
“Bringing them to the Philippines through a tour in Manila and Cebu allows us to show what we have and our potential as a leisure destination to this high-value Middle East market, considered one of the highest spending travelers in the world,” she said.
Bognot, one of the founders of National Association of Independent Travel Agencies (Naitas), said the tour was a result of the country’s participation during the 2010 Arabian Travel Market, which she described as a “comeback” after seven years of not joining.
The tour was held in collaboration with the Etihad Airways-Morocco, Department of Tourism and Afro Asian Travel & Tours Inc., the ground handler of Etihad Airways in the Philippines.
Morocco’s travel time to the Philippines is 19 hours (Casablanca-Abu Dhabi-Manila), including the two-hour waiting time at Abu Dhabi. Etihad currently flies five times a week between Abu Dhabi and Casablanca, Morocco.
Bognot said they have been talking with the Etihad Airways management to include the Philippines in the tour packages they offer their clients.
Currently, the Philippines is not included in the Etihad Airways holiday program. The airline has been doing tour packages for Singapore, Malaysia and China, which has been reporting a good number of tourist arrivals.
Twelve top tour and travel agents from Morocco spent a total of five days and four nights in the Philippines. They went around Manila and Tagaytay.
In Cebu, the group stayed for two days and two nights in Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino. They also visited resort hotels in Mactan and went island-hopping.
Bognot said the visit of the Moroccan group should be seen as a “progress” in terms of attracting more “quality tourists” to visit the country.
She said Moroccan tourists are the luxurious type and long-staying guests, spending eight days and seven nights in a destination. They are also big-spenders and opt to stay in five-star hotels with bigger rooms, toilet and bath. They love beaches, shopping, and learning culture. Moroccans speak four languages-French, Arabic, English and Spanish.
Bognot said that in the past, the Philippines only reported 1,000 Moroccan arrivals per year. But given the positive feedback the country got during their five-day visit, the group pledged to double the arrivals by next year.
“They are amazed with the genuine hospitality of Filipinos. They are also surprised that a small country like the Philippines has over 7,000 islands to explore,” said Bognot.
“Moroccans are more interested in Asian destinations. They love trying new destinations. Their coming to the Philippines would somehow change the perception of the country into a leisure destination. They are impressed by the luxury hotels here,” said Etihad Airways Morocco general manager Moulay Hicham El Kadiri Boutchich.
He said that while the airline had been doing marketing promotions for other countries, the Philippines should also believe that it has good attractions and products to offer.
“This is very important as this will help us move towards planning packages to the Philippines,” said El Kadiri Boutchich. Among potential areas for Moroccan tour packages are Manila, Cebu, Bohol and Boracay.
Aside from Morocco, Bognot is also doing marketing efforts in partnership with Etihad Airways to bring in more tourists from other Middle East countries to the Philippines.
Citing the study, “The Outbound GCC Travel Market-Unique Trends and Characteristics”, the DOT said Gulf Arab tourists, specifically from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are among the world’s highest spending travelers, with daily average ranging from $3,280 to $4,100.
Compared to other tourists, Gulf nationals spend 260 percent more on airfare and 430 percent more on accommodation.
Last year, the country attracted 55,829 tourists from the Middle East posting a growth of 14.60 percent from 2010 arrivals. Key travel markets in the region are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.