For those among the tourist brigade of Bengal tourists who haven’t as yet decided on any offshore destination for the festive season, here&’s a fabulous suggestion. Ever heard of chocolate hills, mountains in the shape of ice-cream cones and an avian species called the Maya? All of this exists in the magical archipelago of the Philippines, which comprises more than 7,107 islands in Southeast Asia. Named after a Spanish king, the Philippines offers much more than Manila — the city of fun — not to forget fascinating crescent-shaped, white, sandy beaches, Unesco-listed World Heritage sites and dazzling nightlife.

In its latest initiative to pull in tourists from Bengal, the Department of Tourism, Philippines hosted a roadshow – “Visit the Philippines Again” — in Kolkata on 8 August, with Raymund Glen A Agustin, chief tourism operations officer, commenting, “India is the second largest country in the world in terms of population and we are emphasising group travel on business trips. We have been successful in pulling Indian leisure tourist groups to the Philippines till today. The Indian metro with the shortest flying time from Manila is undoubtedly Kolkata. It takes around four and a half hours to travel from Kolkata to Hong Kong and from thereon the flying time to Manila is only two hours. We have roped in around 120 travel groups from Kolkata to organise tours to the Philippines for prospective Bengal tourists.”  

The destination has the highest number of tourists from Korea while India is the largest opportunity market in terms of volume. Agustin said, “We offer a variety of things to do for tourists in the Philippines, ranging from dazzling nightlife to shopping and a cosmopolitan flavour to natural and heritage attractions. We have Boracay, which is gaining a reputation as the only 24×7 island in Asia. There is an underground river in Palawan with and eight-kilometre long cave replete with bats, stalactites and stalagmites that is included in Unesco&’s World Heritage list and has been declared as best island destination by Travel + Leisure magazine.”

Indian tourists having valid US, Japan, Australia, Canada, Schengen, Singapore or UK visas are granted visa-free entry to the country for a period of 14 days. “We have recorded around 22 per cent rise in Indian tourist arrivals in recent times and we are quite sure of receiving about 93,000 Indian visitors this year.”    For tourists planning to visit the country in the near future, there is the Philippines International Travel Exchange coming up in Manila on 4-5 September.    “There are no direct flights from any Indian metro to Manila till now. It is most likely that Philippine Airlines will fly out from New Delhi to Manila in 2017,” Agustin added.