MANILA, Philippines -- So many aspects of our lives have been deferred due to the pandemic, especially the joy of getting away from it all. After three long years, as countries opened their doors to foreign visitors South Koreans spared no time, contributing to an uptick in tourism in destinations like Japan, Guam and the Philippines.
The Philippines attracted 2.65 million visitors last year, including 428,014 from South Korea, who formed the second-largest group of foreign visitors to the country. Trailing only 505,089 visitors from the US, Korea was the only Asian country in the list of the top five for foreigners flocking to the island nation.
"The outlook for tourism prior to the pandemic was indeed very optimistic with a 400 percent increase in international tourist arrivals 2012-2020," Bruce Winton, Multi-property Vice President for the Philippines of Marriott International, told The Korea Herald. "As we emerge from the pandemic and international travel aggressively grows again, the Philippines has a fantastic opportunity to attract new and familiar guests back with world-class hotels in exciting, dynamic and beautiful locations," he added.
For years before the pandemic, Manila, Cebu, Boracay, Bohol and Palawan were gaining popularity with those seeking a sun-soaked break. Mactan in particular reached new peaks in its popularity when Boracay closed for six months in 2018 as part of governmental efforts to rehabilitate the island and Mactan-Cebu International Airport opened its second terminal the same year to handle increasing traffic.
It was also around the same time that Sheraton Hotels and Resorts was preparing a resort in the city of Lapu-Lapu on Mactan, an island less than 2 kilometers east of Cebu, to cater to an influx of visitors.
After three years of pandemic-induced delays, Sheraton Cebu Mactan officially opened in December 2022, signaling that the island was finally ready to attract tourists who believe true vacation starts at a resort by the beach.
At the island's newest resort with tiered pools and the ocean beyond, pleasure-seekers can spend a relaxed time learning Zumba or taking out kayaks, playing water volleyball, grabbing Instagrammable moments, reading a book in between or even getting a spa treatment -- leaving little time for exploring the city. It even offers various dining and wining options, including a rare Nikkei restaurant called Dip, with a unique mix of Japanese cooking styles and traditional Peruvian heat and a cave-shaped bar.
However, Cebu does offer more than just a resort holiday. As tourists make their way to a resort from the airport, they might be intrigued to discover the local atmosphere with dogs lazing around in the sun and children, noticing foreigners on the bus, smiling and waving. If willing to spend an entire day outside the resort, tourists could go for water activities including snorkeling and diving alongside whale sharks to Oslob, 120 kilometers away.
Similarly, in the case of Sheraton's latest addition to Manila, Sheraton Hotel Manila had to wait for foreign tourists for more than two years after it opened in December 2019, not knowing the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was around the corner, despite being located just a stone’s throw from the third terminal of Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Sheraton Manila Hotel is located in Manila’s Newport World Resorts, a heady mixture of venues at what was once a military base, that hosts seven hotels, casino gambling areas, a shopping mall, cinemas, restaurants, clubs and a theater. Sheraton Manila, the latest addition to the 12-year-old complex, offers a unique experience including a clear runway view from a cozy room without the deafening noise.
For those not keen on watching flights take off and land, an inviting 600-cubic-meter pool offers an urban oasis that can host 327 people and possesses impressive facilities like the "Vubble," a bubble pod for private dining without losing the hotel’s pool and garden view. The Vubble is also a place where an expertly curated five-course meal can be served for 5,000 Philippine pesos ($90) per person, and a proud dining option by the hotel chain along with Oori, a startlingly authentic Korean restaurant with a creative twist.
Although Sheraton Manila is connected to a shopping mall where you can soak up the local vibes and feed the shopping bug, visiting Manila's various attractions is a must for a memorable visit to the capital city.
Newport World Resorts links Manila's business district and popular tourist destinations. For instance, Ayala Museum, featuring exhibits on Filipino culture, art and history, and the serene Ayala Triangle Gardens, with jogging paths, are just a 15-minute cab ride away.
For those keen to learn about history, especially of the Spanish colonial times, Intramuros, the Walled City, is not to be missed. You can enjoy an immersive stroll through centuries past and the legacy of the seat of power during the Spanish colonial times at Casa Manila and the Manila Cathedral, either on foot or even by bamboo bike.
By Park Ga-young, Korea Herald correspondent