.Festooned with ethnic Filipino furnishings, Philippine travel books and a wide-screen TV playing beautiful videos of the country as visitors enjoy a cup of fresh mango juice and nibble on sweet dried mangoes, the recently opened Philippine Showroom in downtown Seoul can give Koreans a glimpse of the Philippines no brochure or billboard ad can ever show.
Located in the bustling Jung-gu - the heart of Seoul's premier commercial and financial district - a stone's throw from the new Seoul City Hall, the Philippine Showroom is a one-stop-shop travel hub where walk-in Korean visitors can inquire about destinations, book tours, buy plane tickets and complete their most-deserved Philippine holiday at their convenience.
"The Philippines is the only Asian country with this kind of tourism facility in Seoul. South Korea is our number one tourist market, it's only fitting that we invest in this kind of project to touch base in the heart of their country, in the middle of their streets; so they will always be reminded that their visits to our country are very much appreciated," Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said during the opening of the Philippine Showroom.
"Our budget for this showroom is roughly around $12,000 (P480, 000) per month which has almost the same expense as a billboard placement ad at a train station. So might as well rent an entire office space where our ads and TV commercials are permanently placed," said DoT Assistant Secretary and Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) OIC Domingo Ramon Enerio III.
According to Enerio, the DoT is currently in talks with airline partners like Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and ZestAir as well as PAGCOR and other tourism private stakeholders who believe that this particular initiative of the DoT can be good for their business as well.
"Our friends in the private sector are willing to tie up with the department in using the showroom to promote their products. In turn, the maintenance fee of the showroom can be co-shared and the extra funds can be used in bringing Korean tourists, media and tour operators to the Philippines," Enerio added.
This is the first Philippine showroom under the administration of President Aquino and under the leadership of Secretary Jimenez for the 'It's More Fun in the Philippines campaign. "We want this showroom to be the prototype of this kind of facility in other markets. If you ask me if we're opening another one anytime soon -- where we can afford it, we will," Jimenez said.
On the other hand, Philippine Ambassador to Seoul Luis Cruz said the Philippine showroom is a welcome addition in the embassy's drive to promote not only Philippine tourism but also the multi-cultural and diverse culture of South Korea.
"Traveling between South Korea and the Philippines has also become more convenient with the signing of the new air services agreement, thus increasing the flights from 19,000 seats per week to 28,000 and there are more than 20 flights a day to choose from," Cruz said.
"More Filipinos have also been taking advantage of direct flights between the two countries to experience the real Korea as inspired by popular Korean series, and through close interaction with various Korean communities in many parts of the country," Jimenez noted. "The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has also recently set up an office in Manila, which is seen to boost travel and encourage more joint initiatives."
Meanwhile, during the Philippine National Day Celebration in Yeosu Expo 2012, Jimenez paid tribute to the strengthening ties between Korea and the Philippines and the more than 46 years of cooperation between the two countries.
"Korea continues to be our country's top source of visitors and the strongest single market. In 2011, the Philippines welcomed 925,000 Korean tourists or nearly a quarter of the tourist arrivals for the year, reflecting a 24.9 percent growth. We are happy to sustain this for the first quarter of 2012, with Korea maintaining a big lead and posting a 16 percent increase compared to last year's arrivals for the same period," Jimenez said.
Yeosu Expo 2012 commissioner Lee Joon-hee likewise reported that the Philippines is one of South Korea's traditional close ally in Southeast Asia. "The dedication and sacrifices made by the Philippine soldiers in the Korean War are not forgotten and always appreciated. Our two countries' relations have never been better. Last year, the trading exchange for the Philippines and South Korea exceeded $10 billion. Today, Korea is the Philippines' 5th largest trading partner and 3rd largest investor," Lee said.
The Yeosu Expo, with a theme on marine sustainability, serves as a perfect venue for the Philippines to showcase its inherent wealth in coastal and marine resources and to highlight the country as the center of marine biodiversity.
"The wealth of marine and coastal resources provides tourism opportunities and generates livelihood and income for many communities. It serves as a source of our connectivity to the world, to the people of South Korea. For oceans do not separate, but connect people as the seas surrounding us demonstrate today," Jimenez said.
The DoT took the opportunity to share with the Korean and OFW spectators its latest tourism campaign, It's more fun in the Philippines through a vibrant cultural program that showcased Philippine art and culture. Each number revolved around the theme 'Islands of Diversity/ Seas of Connectivity', a tribute to Filipino identity and strong ties with the Koreans.
Performers who took the stage for the energy-filled presentation include: Kyla, Gian Magdangal, Ballet Philippines, University of Cebu Dance Company and Down To Mars.