Sunday, January 1, 2012

Philippines, Don't Let the World Pass You By...

The beautiful coast of Quintana Roo, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
As a foreigner in the Philippines, I can assure you without hesitation that the Philippines has immense potential to be a tourist magnet.  The pristine, white sand beaches alone make the country a magnet for pasty-skinned, sun-starved white people like me.  Add in the surfing and scuba diving spots, golf resorts, rain forest excursions, historical sites, endless opportunities for adventure sports lovers, not to mention the warm and friendly Filipino people, and the Philippines is a serious player in the highly competitive game of tourism.

But the Philippines may potentially be cutting itself off from a lucrative piece of the tourism industry pie:  gay wedding package tourism.

No, I'm not being wry.  Hear me out.

On November 30th of 2011 the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, the biggest tourist-attracting state in that country, saw its first same-sex marriages legally performed within its boundaries.  I'm not talking about a blessing ceremony that isn't recognized by the government; I'm talking about a genuine, legally valid, state-sanctioned civil marriage.

Maybe you've never heard of Quintana Roo, but I'm sure you've heard of its biggest resort city:  world famous Cancún.

As you may know, same-sex marriages are legally recognized throughout Mexico (as well as in other countries that treat gay couples like human beings), but where the weddings can be performed is decided on a state by state basis.  The Mexican Supreme Court ruled in 2010, however, that marriage is a fundamental civil right, and that married same-sex couples are guaranteed the same rights as opposite-sex couples, including the right to jointly adopt children.

Mexico is 92.4% conservative Christian, by the way, with 82.7% of those being members of the Roman Catholic Church.  Don't ever grumble pessimistically that "same-sex marriage can never happen in the 'Catholic Philippines.'"  Let Mexico give you hope, Philippines.

Mexican tourism officials have since recognized that same-sex destination weddings are a lucrative draw that spell big money for resort locations.  Not to equate weddings to mere dollar signs, but let's face the facts -- weddings are, after all, big business, and honeymoons are even bigger business.  Straight weddings and gay weddings are no different in this regard.  What resort (or government for that matter) wouldn't want a piece of the action?  It would be foolish to watch millions of dollars go elsewhere!

As spokeswoman for Mexico's Colectivo Diversidad, Patricia Novelo, said, "This market niche is very attractive for European, Canadian, and American gay couples."  She went on, that "this is something very positive.  Besides the social justice and equality part, there are many economic benefits because the gay community generates between 45 and 60 percent more income on top of conventional tourism."

Hotels, airlines, and tour companies are already lining up to launch same-sex marriage packages to Cancún, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, and the other beach resort towns of Quintana Roo.

Boracay:  What a spot to say 'I do'!
Philippines, WHY ARE YOU MISSING OUT ON THIS?  We white people love honeymoons in warm, friendly places.  Can same-sex couples get married in Europe, Canada, and parts of the U.S.?  Yes.  But it's so much better to get married on a sunny island with sand between your toes!  Taking wedding/honeymoon adventure trips is something Westerners are looking for!  Especially appealing are same-sex destination weddings, which are still a fairly new niche in the tourism market.

The Philippines already has gorgeous beach resorts, and let's face it, the country could use the extra income, could it not?  I'm telling you, it would be a tropical dream come true for gay couples to be able to marry and honeymoon at the resorts of Boracay, Puerto Galera, Panglao, Palawan, Cebu, Amanpulo, or any of the other resorts dotted across your 7,107 sun-kissed islands.  And I can see some of you scoffing and rolling your eyes in pessimism, saying that type of thing could never happen in the Philippines.  Did you already forget what you just read about your Catholic cousin named Mexico?  Heh?

Think of it, the Philippines could be the first and only place in the region to be able to exclusively offer "Tropical Asian Wedding and Honeymoon Packages" for same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples.  Now that's a hot ticket.  No other country in your part of the world offers that.  You'd not only attract Asians, but Australians, Kiwis, North Americans, and Europeans, too.  You know what that spells?  $$$$.  Lots and lots of $$$$.

Even Thailand doesn't have anything like this yet, but since I think the Philippines is awesome, I'm giving Filipinos the scoop before the Thais!

Look, Thailand brings in roughly 32 billion dollars a year from tourism, and a sizable chunk of that is from sun-worshiping Europeans on wedding/honeymoon vacations.  Of course, however, they're cutting out the same-sex weddings, therefore losing out on a very profitable corner of the market.  There are a couple of Thai tour agencies that offer vacation packages with Buddhist blessing ceremonies in Phuket for same-sex couples, but those aren't actual weddings with legal paperwork.  The Philippines, with its 2.25 billion dollar tourism revenue, could grab this corner on the Asian market and have it all for itself.

I'm a Scandinavian, and we Scandinavians love to travel.  We get loads of vacation time and we like to go, especially to Asia.  Did you know that nearly 900,000 Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, and Finns visit Thailand every year?  And we're small countries, so that's a huge number.  The Swedes especially love Thailand.  Every year one out of every 48 Swedes travels to Thailand.  Yes you read that right.  You can't walk on a Thai resort beach without tripping over a sunbathing Swede.  Trust me, that's literally what happened to me when I was there last year.

The Philippines is just a hop, skip, and jump away from Thailand, but most Scandinavians don't know a whole lot about the Philippines.  Plus, vacation airline and hotel packages run really good deals from Europe to Thailand, including the lucrative wedding/honeymoon packages.

Imagine if the Philippines could proudly tout that it offers Asia's premier tropical destination for weddings and honeymoons for straights and gays alike.  My God.  I'm telling you, the dollar signs are buzzing before my eyes just thinking about it!

So many same-sex couples in Australia, Europe, North America, and even right there in nearby Japan, South Korea, China, and Singapore, are dying to spend money on dream wedding vacations.  Philippines, don't miss out!

Mexico and Quintana Roo are already passing you by on this.  Other Mexican states along the Caribbean coast are now also talking about doing the same, and Brazil, the home of one of world's best beach resort party cities, Rio de Janeiro, just jumped on the band wagon, too.  Philippines, step up to the plate and be Asia's Quintana Roo!  Be the Cancún of Southeast Asia, and become a beacon of openness and equality for the rest of Asia in the process.

Nepal is already working on becoming Asia's gay wedding destination.  But what has the Philippines been doing recently?... sending news bites of the Baguio City Council discussing an ordinance to ban simple, non-legally binding same-sex blessing ceremonies in their vacation city, and even considering prosecuting the couples and pastors who took part.

Intolerance is not the image of the Philippines that you want to be publicizing to the world in 2012, especially when the Philippine government has announced that it wants to double tourism revenue by 2016.

My goodness, Philippines.  Don't let the world (and the cash) pass you by!

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