Filipinos take the spotlight at the 31st Arabian Travel Market

Philippine participation aims to exceed in 2024 the over P1 billion sales leads it generated in 2023 from the Middle East’s biggest, most important travel event

On Monday, May 6, “Love, the Philippines,” a 90-square-meter booth set up by the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) Philippines, opened in a simple ceremony at the 31st Arabian Travel Market (ATM), the biggest travel fair in the Middle East, this year hosted by Dubai on the theme “Empowering Innovation – Transforming Travel through Entrepreneurship,” at the Dubai Convention Center.

TEAM PHILIPPINES. Tourism Promotions Board Philippines Chief Operating Officer Marga Nograles (second from left), Department of Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco (third from left), with members of the House of Representatives Midy Cua, Kristine Singson-Meehan, and (partly
hidden) Rachel Margeurite del Mar

Cutting the ceremonial ribbon were Department of Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco, TPB chief operating officer Marga Nograles, the Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Alfonso Ferdinand A. Ver, and Dubai Consul General Marford Angeles, along with a few members of the House of Representatives, such as Ilocos Sur Rep. and deputy speaker Kristine Singson-Meehan, Cebu City District Rep. Rachel Margeurite del Mar, Quirino Rep. Midy Cua, and Barangay Health Wellness (BHW) Partylist Rep. Angelica Natasha Co.  

Of late, there’s been a remarkable surge in outbound tourism from the Middle East, according to Nograles, particularly Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “Based on the data, we see a growing appetite for international travel among GCC citizens, especially after the pandemic, and we see this trend continuing to rise in the coming years,” she said prior to the opening. “This is one of the major reasons we are doubling down on our efforts to maintain and enhance our presence in the Middle East. With our continued participation at the ATM, we aim to position the Philippines as a top-of-mind destination in Asia.”

TAKING THE LEAD. Sec. Christina Frasco, flanked by Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Alfonso Ferdinand A. Ver and TPB Chief Operating Officer Marga Nograles, presents the best of the Philippines to key stakeholders of the Middle East travel and tourism sector at the Abu Dhabi Room of the Dubai Convention Center

In her welcome speech, Frasco happily announced the remarkable increase in the number of visitors arriving from the GCCs that has been recorded since the beginning of 2024. “I’m so happy to join all of you today at the Arabian Travel Market, where the Philippines made its mark as the emerging Muslim-friendly destination in 2023 and where, with hope, we will be able to defend that very same title, especially considering all the strides that have been made by our government to prioritize Muslim travelers from this region coming into our country,” she said. “From this country alone, the UAE, we have seen a nearly 420 percent recovery in terms of arrivals in the Philippines and, on average, we have over 100 percent [of the same] from all the other GCCs. This shows you how much interest there is in the many offerings we have in our country that boast of unforgettable experiences.”

OUR DOORS ARE OPEN. Private sector co-exhibitors of the Philippine booth at ATM at work

Highlighted at the Philippine booth this year, however, on top of the burgeoning Halal tourism in the country and all the efforts of the government in making it a Muslim-friendly destination with improved facilities and services for halal-conscious tourists, are the Filipino people, who, as Frasco described them at a listening tour she conducted with the key stakeholders in travel and tourism in the Middle East, “are the best asset of Philippine tourism.”

“This is why we have sought to institutionalize that distinct warmth and responsibility through the Philippine Brand of Excellence program aimed at uplifting the quality of our tourism services,” she explained. “To this end, we have managed to train from 2023 up to today over 160,000 tourism workers in ensuring that every visitor who comes to the Philippines experiences the love and warmth of the Filipino people.”

Frasco’s audience roared their agreement. A key figure in Qatar tourism, for instance, took to the floor to say, “We love the Philippines, 40 percent of my staff is Filipinos. Hospitality is in their DNA.” Another stakeholder said categorically that he had had the best halal food he ever had outside of the Middle East in the Philippines, citing Banwa Private Island, an exclusive all-villa island retreat and nature and marine reserve in northeastern Palawan.  

JEWEL OF THE DESERT Dubai serves as the host for the 31st Arabian Travel Market, the Middle East's largest tourism event

The Philippine pavilion at the ATM, which runs until May 9, is a portal to everything our archipelago of 7,641 islands has to offer, such as historic, heritage accommodations as represented by The Manila Hotel, stunning beaches, and underwater gems as represented by Lihim Resorts and El Nido Resorts, diving wonders as represented by Lalaguna Villas Luxury Dive Resort and Spa, and luxury and wellness as represented by The Farm at San Benito. The other private sector co-exhibitors, which have as much to offer, are Annset Holidays, Inc., Ark Travel Express,, Boracay Adventures Travel N Tours, CTph Tours, Rajah Travel Corporation, VIA Philippines Travel Corporation, Atmosphere Resorts and Spa, Bellevue Hotel, El Nido by Araw Hospitality Group, Megaworld Hotels & Resorts, and Okada Manila.

Over the past three decades, the annual ATM has become a global travel event in the league of ITB Berlin, especially now that the Middle East has proven to be such a tourism powerhouse. This year, it has gathered more than 2,300 exhibitors and delegates from over 165 countries.

Last year’s Philippine participation cost the TPB P16 million, but with the help of the 16 participating establishments, the Philippine booth generated over P1 billion in sales leads.

With the same number of private sector co-exhibitors, from hotels, tour operators, and destination management companies (DMCs) this year, TPB aims to exceed the gains of 2023 as well as, in the words of Frasco, “to sustain the momentum for increased tourist arrivals from the Middle East…and share more and more of the Filipino story to the world.”