What is the Filipino massage? When authorities can sell the answer to foreigners, then it can have its share of a nearly $1 trillion wellness tourism market that is poised to recover faster than the rest of the travel industry during the pandemic.
Tourism Usec. Roberto Alabado III said he was saddened when a Japanese tourist once asked him why Philippine hotels offer Shiatsu, Thai and Swedish massages when it has its own -- hilot. He said a “whole of government” approach is underway to fix this.
The diversity of the Philippines’ terrain and indigenous cultures is a rich source of traditional and alternative healing practices, from herbal remedies to massages. What’s lacking is marketing effort, one that the Department of Tourism hopes to craft with the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care or PITAHC, an office under the Department of Health.
“We are thinking of ways paano ba ang brand differentiation. ‘Pag pumunta ka sa Pilipinas, ano ang Philippine wellness against other destinations?” Alabado told the Research Dissemination Forum of DOT and PITAHC.
Wellness tourists for example go to India to do yoga in its birthplace, to the Himalayas in Nepal for meditation and to Japan’s onsen or hot baths to relax. For the Philippines, the challenge is to offer the experience of beautiful scenery like Siargao with its own wellness signature.
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The Philippines is among the top 20 destinations in the world for medical tourism, which refers to science-based cures. Tourists come to the country for cosmetic and minor invasive surgeries and executive check-ups, Alabado said.
One success story is The Farm at San Benito in Batangas, arguably the most popular wellness resort in Luzon, he said.
“We have the diverse environment that is very conducive to wellness activities,” he said.
As international travel slowly restarts, there will be greater demand for wellness destinations, which was a $69 billion market three years before the pandemic struck, he said.
“You want to eat healthy. You want to exercise more. You want to be-stress free. Ito ang nakikitang opportunity. Para hindi ka magkaroon ng COVID, you have to maintain your health at its peak,” he said.
On the side of the healers, PITAHC is studying the feasibility of a registry that will professionalize practitioners’ ranks and erase the long-held stigma against them by some medical doctors.
According to PITAHC, raising the profile of healers is made more important by the pandemic, when quarantines make hospital access difficult, thrusting them to the frontlines of primary and emergency care.
The profiling study is led by Macro Health Research Organization Inc., with Dr. Calvin S. de los Reyes of UP Manila and University of the Ryukyus in Japan as project leader, along with Geraldine Maminta and Prof. Marilyn Crisostomo, also of UP Manila.