Wake Up, Philippines!

The sporting side of Indonesia

Posted in Tourism, Travel by Erineus on March 9, 2009

By Joaquin Henson Updated March 01, 2009 12:00 AM

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Bull-racing is an Indonesian traditional sport and life-sized figures are on exhibit to portray the action.

MANILA, Philippines – There’s more to sports in Indonesia than just badminton which has, by the way, delivered six Olympic gold medals for the Southeast Asian country with a seam-busting population of close to 250 million.

I found this out during a recent visit to Jakarta with a side trip to Bali.  My balikbayan sisters from the US, my wife Menchu and I took the PAL non-stop evening flight to Jakarta.  We got in early morning and it was a perfect time to check in at our hotel, the Atlet Century Park, without a minute’s wait.

Although badminton has been Indonesia’s Olympic gold mine since joining the Summer Games in 1952, football is undisputedly the No. 1 sport of the masses.  Indonesians are in love with football as Filipinos are with basketball.

Even as Indonesia was ranked only No. 144 in the latest world football standings, it is bidding to host the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.  For the record, only two milestones in Indonesian football history stand out from an international viewpoint.  In 1938, Indonesia qualified for the World Cup in France.  And in 1956, Indonesia made it to the final round of the Olympics.

But alas, at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2007, Indonesia didn’t even qualify for the semifinals.

What is evident in Indonesia’s program for elite athletes is its focus.  The Indonesian National Committee or KONI (Komite Olahraga Nasional Indonesia), headed by Agum Gumalat, is not wasting time and energy on sports where the probability of achieving success is low.  The concentration is on specific sports where Indonesia has a competitive advantage.  It’s no wonder Indonesia has collected its 25 Olympic medals from only three sports — badminton, weightlifting, and archery.

“Indonesia does not excel in football internationally but Indonesians love the game,” said a local sports promoter.  “Politicians use football to make themselves known.  The giant cigarette brand Djarum is the biggest sponsor of football.  There are no real Indonesian soccer stars.  But teams pay big money to bring in players from South American and Africa to play as imports.  Football is the most popular sport, followed by badminton and boxing.”

Boxing is another sport where Indonesia has made some global headway.  So far, Indonesia has produced five world boxing champions — Ellyas Pical in 1985, Nico Thomas in 1989, Suwito Lagola in 1995 and Muhammad Rachman and Chris John in 2004.

Luckily, our hotel was in front of the National Sports Stadium so when I found out John was training across the street, I immediately went over to meet the WBA featherweight titlist.  The meeting was arranged by Indonesian sportswriter Martinez dos Santos and boxing promoter Tamuzin Rambing.

“There’s a lot of pressure on me to win,” said the 29-year-old John, a Catholic in a predominantly Muslim society.  “But I’m used to the pressure.  I’m Indonesia’s only world champion today and my countrymen are banking on me to make them proud.  I’m proud, too, to fight for my country.”

Basketball is low on the popularity totem pole but media mogul Erick Thohir has big plans for the sport as the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA) president.  Thohir, 37, owns Republika, the largest Muslim newspaper in Indonesia, and controls at least two TV networks and a large coal mining company.  His family is reputedly among the top 10 richest in the country with interests in mining, media, real estate, and banking.

In an interview, Thohir mentioned that the Indonesia league currently employs two Filipino coaches, Bong Ramos in Surabaya and Boysie Zamar in Medan.  There are 10 teams in the local league which runs from January to May.  At the end of each year, the league organizes a tournament where rookies and free agents are invited to play on a trial basis before the next season begins.

Thohir said Jakarta will host the FIBA-Asia Champions Cup on May 12-20 and proudly pointed out that Indonesia won the last SEABA Champions Cup, a tournament which allows each team to play two imports.

“The PBA was the model we used in organizing our league,” said Thohir who recently met SBP chairman Manny V. Pangilinan during the PBA game between San Miguel Beer and Talk ‘N’ Text in Singapore.

Learning about sports in Indonesia wouldn’t be complete unless you visit the Museum Olahraga, a three-story building inaugurated in 1989 in the Taman Mini park complex.  The facility stands as a monument to celebrate the history of Indonesian sports and to glorify the country’s athletic heroes.

The first floor features the Hall of Fame, an exhibit of the 1997 Mount Everest conquest by intrepid Indonesian adventurers, a photo tribute to Indonesian athletes in various sports promoting the values of Olympism, discipline, physical fitness, a sound mind and sound body, and a metal sculpture of three divers in different poses connected by suspension wires at the open center of the circular museum strung up from the upper level to the ground floor.

The second floor features individual exhibits of Indonesian achievements in several sports, a photo history of the National Games, and a display of the traditional equipment in indigenous sports.  On the third floor is a display of life-sized figures depicting action in traditional sports like jumping huge rock formations in the Nias island, Pasola where horseback riders battle it out with lancers in a simulation of actual combat and a race where each entry is a rider holding the reins of two bulls.

In Bali, most tourists indulge in a variety of water sports, primarily surfing.   I found the only squash facility in the Kuta district, the Discovery Kartika Hotel which has two courts.  I played two straight days with a pro Nur Al-Lim.   Our daughter Cristina joined us in Bali with her cousin Rica Nolasco and they actively took part in their favorite sport, shopping.

As for shopping, there are real bargains for sports enthusiasts.  I got two pairs of indoor Indonesian-made playing shoes (Thomkins brand) for about P1,000 each at the Matahari Department Store and a Head microgel 450 squash racket sells about $25 less than amazon.com at Metro Sports in downtown Jakarta.

Sports in Indonesia has also come to light with the ascendancy of US President Barack Obama, a basketball-crazy weekend warrior who lived four years in Jakarta with his American mother Ann Dunham and Indonesian stepfather Lolo Soetoro.  Obama, who speaks fluent Bahasa, was six when he moved to Jakarta with his mother and her second husband.  In 1971, when he was 10, Obama moved to Honolulu to live with his mother’s parents.

In just a few days in Indonesia, I found out how important sports is to a country as a source of national pride, a maker of role models and an inspiration to the youth.

View previous articles from this author.


A celebration of life, love and Nature

Posted in DOT, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on February 27, 2009

The Swiss had no idea what hit them.

When they invited the Philippines to become the featured guest country in the 2009 Muba fair in Basel, the Swiss probably expected a tame exhibit with a few colorful posters, a display of some local products, and a smattering of literature on our 7,100 islands.

What they didn’t expect was a full-on sensory experience that included culinary journeys, fashion shows, cultural presentations, and parades set within a lush tropical oasis.

But then again they probably didn’t account for the Filipinos’ penchant for celebrating life to its fullest.

“[Our tagline for this fair is] ‘Mabuhay!’ which is an all-purpose Filipino expression,” Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano explained to the crowd of Swiss, German, and French dignitaries who attended the opening of the exhibit. “Its root word is ‘buhay,’ meaning life. It expresses the spontaneous hospitality of Filipinos. Mabuhay can also mean live long. And we use that as a way to wish someone well or wish good health.”

Mabuhay is also a call to action, he elaborated, meaning to live life—a disposition typical of Filipinos used to celebrating a thousand fiestas every year and the message, which the Philippines, as this year’s guest country, hoped to impart to Muba visitors.

Important market

Muba is the biggest and most prestigious consumer trade fair in Switzerland. It attracts more than 300,000 visitors across the country, as well as neighboring Germany and France, to the city of Basel, where the fair is held every year. Each year, the fair highlights a guest country, which presents its economy, major exports in products and services, tourism, culture and arts, among others, to visitors.

The Philippines’ participation, a project three years in the making, was a collaboration of government and private sectors, with the Department of Tourism taking the lead.

For the Tourism, the opportunity to present the Philippines to the Swiss was “too hard to resist” because not only does it cement ties between the two countries but it also provides high-profile exposure in an increasingly important market.

According to Tourism statistics, the Swiss market grew by 6 percent last year, making it the fifth largest market from Europe. More than that, Swiss travellers spend an average of $3,500 to $4,000 per person for a seven to 14-day package stay in the Philippines, making it an important emerging market for the country.

Positive growth

The Swiss are very good clients, whether in good times or in bad times, said Durano. In fact, it was the Swiss market that helped shore up tourism arrivals in the Philippines which, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, is one of the remaining destinations achieving positive growth despite the slowdown in major markets.

“Travel is part of the [Swiss] lifestyle. What happens during economic slowdowns is that they’ll be looking for more value, [which is perfect for us since] we’ve never positioned the Philippines as a cheap destination. We’ve always positioned the Philippines as high end. My optimism is not grounded on the natural Filipino optimism. It’s grounded on reality, it’s grounded on performance last year, which all in the industry are saying is better than expected.

“There is a need to fan the flames. This is the only opportunity we saw [to accomplish this]. There is [also] greater value added in our participation because this is more than tourism. There’s trade, there are investments. More importantly, the premium of being here is the fact that we have monopoly,” he said. The event also allows the department to reach out directly to consumers, the next logical step after wooing big travel wholesalers for the past three years.

More than a marriage of convenience

Joel Valdes, chairman of the Philippine Swiss Business Council, the lead organization on the side of the private sector, lauds the participation as the “first public-private initiative,” a perfect marriage of both the government and private entities.

“Muba typically invites a guest country once in a lifetime. They don’t ask the same country twice. But twice, we were invited. The first time, the invitation was addressed to us, the Philippine Swiss Business Council. But we’re private, we didn’t know who in the government to go to. We wanted to present something that would set us apart. If we presented the traditional manufacturing goods, we’d lose out to the Chinese. Our initial scheme failed, so we turned to the Department of Tourism. We figured we’d take care of the trade exhibitors, while DoT gave the added value we needed to make it like a Philippines Inc. In this way, we are not just promoting our products but the Philippines as a country.”

With the help of Fairs and More (an arm of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines which specializes in fairs and exhibits), the Sosiete Generale de Surveillance Philippines, and other entities (including the Department of Agriculture and the provincial government of Bulacan), the PSBC put together a diverse group of exhibitors that showcased the different facets of Philippine trade.

“Our mandate is to promote trade, investment, and tourism between the two economies. This is a door opener. We intend to pursue similar ventures in the future, like Basel World, the biggest jewelry and watch exhibit in the world, or Art Basel, the biggest art exhibition,” Valdes said.

Beyond tourism

Muba also opens the door to other avenues in promoting the Philippines, said Durano.

“We’ve started the Live Your Dreams campaign as a response to the lack of hotels [in the country], and to go up the value chains in terms of tourism by pushing the number of real estate developments in the country as an investment for second homes,” he explained.

The Live Your Dreams program gives global Filipinos as well as foreigners the opportunity to own condominium units in the Philippines.

“If you have people having second homes in the country, not only is their spending in the country higher than a normal tourist—because a condo by itself is already in the millions—but when you have a second home in the country they would think of visiting every year and they would stay long. So it creates that other dynamic outside of traditional tourism. It pushes the value of tourism in our economy.

“One of our basic strategies was not to put all our eggs in one basket. By broadening our market base, we made sure that the Philippines is resilient. No matter what happens in one market, there are other markets that can fill in. The other one is to really grow the value, the contribution of tourism in the economy. That’s why we’ve launched these higher value programs, like the Live Your Dreams, medical tourism, etc.”

Putting the ‘wow’ in Wow Philippines

As this year’s guest country, the Philippines occupied pride of place, with a 1,700 square meter pavilion covering the whole back end of Hall 1 in the Main Building of the exhibit.

The pavilion is nothing if not impressive.

Adopting the theme, “100% Natural, 100% Philippines, the stand is divided into several areas to accommodate the tourism sector, the trade sector, a turo-turo-style restaurant, a huge stage and eating area and a wellness center.

“For years, we were looking for something like the World Travel Mart in London or the International Tourismus Bourse in Berlin, something of that magnitude and importance, here in Switzerland to promote the Philippines and we found it in Muba,” said Eduardo Jarque, Tourism Undersecretary for Planning and Promotions. “I think it’s the best we’ve done so far. We wanted to showcase the best of what we have, the best of what we do, the best of what we cook in the Philippines. We wanted to highlight the Philippines’ unique culture through our folkloric dances and a sampling of our delectable cuisine.”

Habitués used to the business-like atmosphere of trade fairs were quick to wrap their minds around the stand’s fiesta ambience, barely lingering around ergonomically designed booths like Ikea, and hurrying to the pavilion to catch the hourly performances and fashion shows of the Bayanihan. A lot of them flocked to the restaurant, run by Swissotel but presided over by Filipino chef Marilou Rodriguez Neumann, to taste Pinoy fare like Kare-Kare, Kalderetang Tupa, Kilawin, and Pinakbet. (The restaurant serviced close to 8,000 guests during the fair)

Some took advantage of the hilot services offered at the stand, where therapists accommodated more than 50 customers a day (203 total).

In the tourism area, Swiss-based tour operators (like Flex Travel, TourAsia, and Wettstein), as well as local dive resort operators (like Pinjalo Resort and Club Paradise) handled inquiries about the country, while Basel-based Filipinos checked out the condo units offered by Ayala Land, SM Properties, and Century Properties.

To say that the Philippines made an impact on Muba visitors is an understatement. Suffice it to say that there has never been anything like it before.

“I think we have set the benchmark for other guest countries from now on,” said Durano with a big smile.

By Gianna G. Maniego

Asia’s top adventure resorts

Posted in Tourism, Travel by Erineus on February 27, 2009

The reason that adventure resorts are so popular is that they appeal to almost everyone. You don’t have to be the adrenaline addict to appreciate the natural beauty surrounding these resorts. The excruciatingly mobile city life just makes you need some peace and quiet that you can only get at really remote places. But, of course, you wouldn’t wanna sacrifice comfort. That’s what these kinds of resorts are there for. Popular online travel company, Agoda, recently named the top adventure resorts in Asia Pacific region. Here are their picks:

1. Taj Safari Resort (Mahua Khoti, India)—Wildlife exploration like nature walks, elephant treks, and tiger-sightings are available daily. The resort has 12 appointed luxury village huts for guests.

2. Aman Resorts (Amankora, Bhutan)—A spiritual pilgrimage deep in the hills and valleys of mythical Bhutan, a series of five lodges that guests can visit as “pit stops” while trekking the secluded Buddhist hideaway.

3. Four Seasons (Golden Triangle, Thailand)—Situated in the Chiang Rai province, this unique tented camp facility—complete with all the luxury the Four Seasons is known for—is accessible only by riverboat. It lies amid a bamboo jungle right at the border of Thailand, Myammar, and Laos (thus called Golden Triangle).

4. Elephant Safari Park Lodge (Bali, Indonesia)—It’s all about elephants at this lodge. Guests are encouraged to take part in caring for the creatures—from interacting with them, feeding them, and even bathing them.

5. Freedom Inn Niseko (Hanazono, Japan)—Majestic views of mountains, streams, and volcanic peaks, winter activities and a refreshing dip at the hot springs to cap it off are what this Japanese retreat offers.

6. El Nido Resorts (Palawan)—A tropical resort surrounded by 45 islands and islets for its guests to hop around, El Nido is a prime destination where nature is the appetizer, main course, and dessert. But, of course, you already knew that!

7. River Kwai Jungle Raft (Kanchanaburi, Thailand)—Not only can guests be one with nature, they are also expected to be one with the locals. The Mon tribes are very accommodating and they will be more than happy to let tourists watch their ritual dances and be involved in other activities.

8. Bamurru Plains Hotel (Kakadu, Australia)—A three-hour drive from Darwin, this resort somewhere in the Australian savannah has nine safari-tented suites. Quite troubling, but making perfect sense, is the fact that there are no phones, televisions, and other typical hotel “distractions.” But it’s still all “wild bush luxury.”

9. Laos Spirit (Luang Prabang, Laos)—French Colonial architecture features prominently in this resort. The eco-friendly establishment provides rustic luxury to the pristine backdrop of mountains and seemingly endless trekking/hiking possibilities.

10. Hin Tok River Camp @ Hell Fire Pass (Kanchanaburi, Thailand)—With 20 luxurious tent setups along the Kwai River, this accommodation is just a 3-kilometer walk away from the Hell Fire Pass Memorial. Activity-packed packages—including trips to historic landmarks—are available.

Queries? Visit Agoda on the Web at http://www.agoda.com or call their Manila office at 814-9565.

By Ed Biado