Tourists Asked to Discover, Experience and Explore
The world-famous and iconic Grand Central Terminal in New York City is the home of the 7,641 islands of the Philippines – at least for four days this week as Explore Islands Philippines, a major project to promote Philippine tourism is now ongoing at the Vanderbilt Hall after a grand kickoff celebration opening the expo on Wednesday, May 9th.
Philippine Mission to the United Nations Permanent Representative, Ambassador Teodoro Locsin, PH Department of Tourism New York attaché Susan del Mundo and Economic Affairs Minister Jose Victor Chan-Gonzaga from the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC led the opening along with guests from the Philippines – Tourism Promotions Board Chief Operating Officer Cesar Montano, Deputy COO Maricon Ebron, Philippine Airlines VP for Marketing Ria Domingo, among others.
Her Royal Highness Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia and Serbia led the ribbon-cutting ceremony along with representatives from the city and the state. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sent his representative, Lindsey Boylan, Deputy Secretary for Economic Development.
“Napaka-importante nito dahil dito sa New York naka-sentro ang lahat ng mga turista sa buong mundo,” TPB COO Montano said. “This is the best place to do this, and to promote all our untapped destinations. Now that Boracay is closed for several months, this is a great opportunity for us to introduce and let them know the other amazing islands in the Philippines, lalo na at hindi alam ng mundo that we have more than 7,000 islands.”
Jerry Sibal and Edwin Josue, the men behind JS Productions and the organizers of the event were ecstatic that the project that they have been working on has come to fruition.
“We finally did it! This is a historic event for the Filipino community as we showcase the Philippines to the world,” exclaimed Josue.
Sibal, his partner shared that the project is three years in the making and seeing it unfold and happen is a surreal feeling.
“We can’t thank you enough,” Sibal said as he thanked the sponsors among them the Department of Tourism and the Tourism Promotions Board. “It’s like having a baby and the baby is now here.”
“I know that the Governor wishes he could be here, not least of which because it is on the list of places to go and it is certainly on mine,” Boylan said, prior to reading a short letter from Governor Cuomo congratulating the organizers of the event.
Princess Katarina, a world-renowned authority on tourism and hospitality and President of the Guild of Travel and Tourism, officially declared the exhibition open.
ABC-7 reporter Nina Pineda acted as the program’s emcee.
Travel and Trade
In addition to promoting the white-sand, palm-lined beaches, crystal-clear lagoons and volcanic mountain vistas of the South East Asia nation, Philippine government officials and other experts also discussed trade and investment at the event. After the opening festivities in the morning, there were several panels that discussed various issues and topics related to travel and tourism.
A Panel on “Why Invest in the Philippines” featured Teodoro Locsin, Jr., Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations and Nancy Valiakis, Head of Business Development – Americas at Augentius, one of the largest independent alternative asset management service providers in the world, along with award-winning journalist Ramy Inocencio of Bloomberg Television and Radio News.
Explores Expo promotes ties between the Philippines and the world, and this year’s event follows a year of dynamic economic growth of 6.7 percent in 2017, one of the fastest paced economies in Asia after China’s 6.9 percent and Vietnam’s 6.8 percent. Business Insider ranked the Philippines as the top country to invest in 2018.
“I am confident that the Expo will successfully present the Philippines as a premier tourism and investment destination, and New York certainly offers an unparalleled international stage to bring people together whether as prospective tourists or investors,” Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel G. Romualdez said in an earlier statement after a briefing with the Explore Islands Philippines Team in Washington, DC.
The celebration moved to the Roosevelt Hotel with a dinner gala attended by more than 200 travel and tourism professionals in New York where lucky guests won round trip tickets to the Philippines, hotel accommodations in El Nido and Coron in Palawan, Panglao Island in Bohol and resorts in Cebu.
The evening’s highlight was the 45-minute fashion show called Philippine Tapestry where models paraded on the runway wearing gowns and barong tagalog designed by world-renowned designer and Philippine Ambassador of Fashion Renee Salud using indigenous weaves, fabrics and materials.
The materials used came from ethnic tribes in Luzon (Cordillera, Lumban, and Bicol), the Visayas and Mindanao (T’boli, Caraga, and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) and Salud, the fashion czar who has won global recognition and awards from international design expositions in key fashion capital of the world, turned them into modern gowns and evening wear.
As a designer, Salud has dedicated decades of his life promoting Philippine fabrics whenever he can, one of the advocacies he actively promotes.
“As an advocate, my goal is to bring Philippine fashion to the world stage – to a level that that there’s a global demand for our work, and this will create more jobs for the people. And it will prove to the whole world that Filipino designers are at par with the world’s best,” he told us in an interview for Balikbayan Magazine late last year, in the midst of prepping for the Philippine Tapestry project to go more countries outside the Philippines.
“My dream is for Philippine Tapestry to grow into an event that is shown in all cities where there is a Filipino community. Our goal is to cement the presence of Filipino culture on all of these places,” Salud told us then. “Judging from the reaction of Filipinos wherever we go, things are off to a perfect start.”
Since the Philippines is home to a lot of regional fabrics, it was a major task to decide which fabrics were going to receive the highlight.
For the fashion show where the collection is woven into the culture of the Philippines, Salud chose several fabrics from each island cluster: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
“I make sure the entire country is represented, in terms of fabrics. But at the end of the of the day, it is all about how a designer works and styles a fabric – and converts it into fashion that a wearer can use in real life,” he said.
But when it comes to individualized and personalized design, Salud said he chooses based on how he perceives the wearer, the customer.
“At the end of the day, it is never about the fabrics – but about what the customer wants. The shapes and the style must be good. The fit must be good,” he quipped.
Day Two and More at Grand Central
Among the panel discussions held on Day One were dialogues with professionals in real estate, architecture, engineering, biotech, technology and finance.
On Day Two, the Department of Tourism officials discussed various tourism initiatives including Beautiful Destinations, Students and Millennial tours, Diving Tourism, Adventure, Cuisine, Retirement, as well as Arts, Culture and History.
Josh Vasquez, representing the flagship carrier of the Philippines, Philippine Airlines, gave a special presentation announcing that by the end of October 2018, PAL will be flying non-stop from New York to Manila, reducing the travel time to 15 and a half hours.
Travel executive Joebert Opulencia, with more than four decades of experience running his own company Orientours, talked about the wide and varied land tours tourists can avail of in the Philippines.
Explore Islands Philippines is set to celebrate arts and culture on the final two days, Friday and Saturday, May 11-12, showcasing artists and artisans from the U.S. and the Philippines. Day 3’s program will include presentations from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, a performance by Kinding Sindaw, culinary tourism, Philippine martial arts, weavers, artisans and fashion.
Hollywood power couple Ruben and Janet Nepales are also set to talk about trends in films and location sites in the Philippines.
Explore Islands Philippines is free to the public and is open from 9am to 6pm each day. Vanderbilt Hall can be easily accessed by the Pershing Square, 42nd St. entrance of Grand Central Terminal. Grand Central can be reached by all major subways (4, 5, 6, 7 as well as the S train from Times Square).