By Manny V. Ilagan
MANILA – Another ‘FUN’ homecoming full of exciting activities marked this year’s 9th Ambassadors, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour to the Philippines (ACGTDT).
Despite the threat of Tropical Depression Inday brewing at the northeast of the Philippines area of responsibility, the 9th ACGTDT, held from July 28 to 31, was generally blessed with good weather with only scattered rain showers that did nothing to dampen the high spirits of this year’s tour participants.
Close to 300 Filipino-Americans from all over the United States under the jurisdiction of Foreign Service Posts in Agana, Honolulu, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C. arrived to a VIP reception on July 28 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The next three nights and four days were a whirlwind of activities for the participants who were entertained, serenaded, wined, dined and were accorded with some of the best receptions organized by Tourism Promotions Board, DOT’s marketing arm and Rajah Tours Philippines, the ground handler of ACGTDT.
Cultural presentations highlighted the welcome reception especially arranged for the tour participants held at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia Jr., who headed the delegation from Washington D.C., warmly welcomed the participants and further encouraged them to often visit the Philippines for deeper appreciation of all things Filipino.
Meanwhile, the fellowship night hosted by Western Union at Dusit Thani Hotel on July 29 was marked by lots of music, entertainment by a live band, and a lot of dancing among participants. The all-white-dress themed fellowship night was made more exciting by the surprise raffle prizes with a lucky participant winning a round trip ticket to the United States and the Philippines.
Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim, who delivered his speeches at both parties stressed the importance of revisiting the homeland.
Those who joined the Studio Tours of GMA Network and ABS-CBN TV had a blast as they met and had selfies with showbiz personalities when they attended GMA’s noontime game show “Eat Bulaga” and ABS-CBN’s musical variety show “It’s Showtime.”
The special Makati and Manila city tours also included visits to Intramuros, Metropolitan Museum at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, San Agustin Museum, Manila’s Ocean Park, among others.
One of the highlights of this year’s visit was a guided tour to the Pico de Loro Cove at Hamilo Coast resort in Nasugbu, Batangas. Travelling to Nasugbu via the Cavite Expressway or popularly known as Cavitex was without delay courtesy of the PNP (Philippine National Police) motorcyle cops who provided escorts the tour participants.
On hand to welcome and joined the tour participants throughout their stay at Pico de Loro were Mayor Charito Apacible of Nasugbu, Batangas, DOT-Region 4 Director Rebecca V. Labit and Ms. Emily Katigbak, Batangas Provincial Tourism Officer who represented Batangas Governor Vilma Santos.
At Pico de Loro the participants were treated to whole day of fun activities that included a warm VIP welcome with festive cultural entertainment, VIP dancers, rondalla music, a sumptuous lunch, and lots of opportunities for swimming, diving, snorkeling or simply strolling around the resort.
Even the send-off party was done in style with upbeat music and mob dancing as participants started to board their buses for the trip back to Manila.
Participants also joined the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Rizal Monument in Luneta. Thereafter, they motored to Malacanang for a tour and a luncheon at the Palace.
While the participants were unable to have an audience with President Benigno S. Aquino III, Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr., head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario were on hand to welcome the delegates.
Ambassador Cuisia presented this year’s participants to the 9th ACGTDT and introduced each delegation from all Foreign Service Posts. Secretary Coloma gave the welcome address. Secretary Del Rosario in his speech positively talked about EDCA, the strong Philippine-US relationship and the two countries’ economic partnership.
As the four-day tour ended, Rajah Tour Philippines, ACGTDT tour ground handler, has arranged optional out-of-town tours for participants who want to have additional travel experience in other Philippine destinations.
These destinations include Laoag-Vigan, Cagayan de Oro-Camiguin, Southern Luzon Golf Tours, Davao, Cebu-Bohol, Iloilo-Bacolod, Kalibo-Boracay, Camarines Sur-Albay, and Puerto Princesa-Palawan.
ACGTDT, which was launched in 2005 during the term of then Philippine Ambassador to the United States and now Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, is now nine years old and has consistently attracted hundreds of participants every year.
It is a joint project of all Philippine Foreign Service missions in the U.S. located in Agana, Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
The program, which was by the Department of Tourism (DOT) as a banner tourism project in 2011 is aimed to encourage Filipino-Americans to visit the Philippines’ various tourist destination and to develop a deeper appreciation of the history, heritage and cultural of our country.
Based on the DOT’s most recent industry performance report for the first half of 2014, visitors from the United States constituted the second biggest arrivals for the period.