In a not-so-distant paradise, my travel dreams found their fulfillment. In this haven, blessed with glorious weather, white beaches, crystal sands — as well as expansive shopping malls, luxurious hotels and resorts — the harmony of nature and modernity is nothing short of a marvel.

There, I swam with whale sharks, experienced the mountains and explored the azure seas. I have also tried exotic dishes and crossed majestic bridges.

Amidst ancient churches like Sto. Nino Shrine and the spiritual sanctuary Simala where devotees flock, I have knelt down in prayer.

This is Cebu, the Queen City of the South, where all roads lead to adventure, and a world-class airport welcomes you unlocking limitless surprises.

I embarked on a return journey to captivating Cebu. This time, my home away from home, was the authentic-Filipino 379-room, 5-star  Fili Hotel. Robinsons Hotels and Resorts’ new brand of homegrown hotels has opened its flagship property at NUSTAR Resort and Casino in Cebu City.

This visit was made more special because Cebu of the 16th Philippine Travel Exchange, known as PHITEX. This is a gathering of 100 buyers from almost 20 countries and 168 Filipino seller delegates. Close to 100 buyers from Asia, Europe, North America, UAE, the US and more joined this year’s travel trade event.

The electrifying opening of this grand event at the Fili Hotel Convention Center was an explosion of colors, talent, dance, song and love for culture and heritage. The event commenced with a prayer to make PHITEX 2023 a resounding success.

Philippine Tourism Secretary Cristina Garcia-Frasco, COO Margarita Nograles and Cebu Mayor Michael Rama

Tourism has the power to bring people together, transcending borders and differences. It is a path to peace and a celebration of life and love.

Our Tourism Secretary Cristina Frasco shared that there is an influx of 3.8 million visitors, a remarkable 80 percent of the Department of Tourism’s ambitious target. Sec. Frasco thanked President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., for his support for the tourism industry.

“As we stand at the threshold of the golden era of tourism, we see a future where Philippine tourism shines brighter than ever before, where every visitor leaves not only with cherished memories, but with a piece of our nation in their hearts,” she said. Our people are the key to our incredible success as our unwavering love is felt by every traveler who graces our shores.

PHITEX 2023 includes tours for buyers as they visit community-based tourism sites focusing on grassroots initiatives, local textiles, culinary offerings and ecotourism activities.

Secretary Frasco’s vision redefines how the world sees the Philippines. Information centers, cozy lounges and impeccable restrooms can be found in several locations in the country. The Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) is ramping up gateways and increased flights. Public works and highways will join forces to create accessible routes to hidden gems. The future is digital, with investments in internet communication infrastructure to keep tourists connected throughout their journey.

Marga Nograles, COO of the Tourism Promotions Board, said the theme for this year’s PHITEX edition, “Tourism Sustainability in the Era of Internet of things,” will eventually, with the touch of a button, make the impossible possible. She said we are at the crossroads of a digital revolution that champions the harmonious coexistence of tradition and modernization, balancing expertise as we remain vigilant custodians of our vibrant cultural heritage.

PHITEX group (from left) Buddy Recio, Marky Ramone Go, Mel Martinez, Divine Recio, Kara Gozali-Agas and Marco Lobregat

Cebu City Mayor Rama is an amazing ambassador who aggressively spreads the word about Philippine tourism. He greeted the delegates in several languages and emphasized the importance of networking and collaboration among countries. His efforts to showcase the wonders of this nation on the international stage have been commendable.

This trip made me re-experience my appreciation for the food, music, culture, love for heritage, nature, and the modernization that characterize Cebu. At Fili Hotel, my favorite stay destination in Cebu, the creativity and artistry of the Filipino is celebrated in paintings, sculptures and artwork throughout the facility. Their villas set a new standard for tropical elegance, offering an unforgettable escape in the heart of the Philippines.

We discovered the House of Lechon, and our rambunctious group savored kilawin, a delightful dish in vinegar and spices and Cebu Express — a mix of vegetables and thin dried fish simmered in thick coconut cream. It was an unforgettable moment as we celebrated the birthday of our dear Divine Recio, who is beautiful both inside and out.

After the grand opening ceremony of PHITEX, we dined at the elegant Barcino restaurant in Fili Hotel, whose pecialties include paella, Iberico ham, callos and creamy croquettes. For our sweet ending, we had golden churros served with a rich velvety chocolate sauce.

The evening welcome dinner at Fili Convention celebrated the world-class talents of homegrown Cebu artists, singers and dancers who performed Filipino, Italian and Broadway classics, including tunes from Les Misérables and Miss Saigon. They also showcased amazing videos of our country. With such beauty and variety of travel choices, it’s simply inevitable to “Love the Philippines.”

We also experienced the luxurious vibe of the 261-room Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, part of Marriott Bonvoy’s portfolio of 30 extraordinary brands.

Indulge in relaxing massages in treatment rooms that emanate lavender, verbena and other soothing fragrances. The firm-yet-loving strokes of their masseuses will leave you invigorated.

Most memorable was our breezy nightcap at the fabulous Shangri-La Mactan Cebu, now celebrating its 30th year. Over piping-hot flavorful  laksa soup and chilled fresh coconut juice, we shared hearty laughs and life-changing stories with gracious Lannie Merilo, the hotel’s new director of Sales and Marketing.

We ought to celebrate the Philippines — and why not start with Cebu? It’s time to experience this region in all its glory, embark on exciting adventures, savor the cuisine, and embrace and fall in love with their people and culture.

2023-09-24T07:35:55Z dg43tfdfdgfd