Southeast Asia’s 7,100-island archipelago of under-subscribed beaches and widespread use of English naturally brings tourists. Add in clean hotels with a pool and bar for $30 per night. Five years ago the Philippine government began building on that fame with a slogan to lure more people. The foreign tourist headcount reached 5.9 million last year, up 11% over 2015. But away from the bars and beaches a lot of travelers gripe. They couldn’t get Internet connections. They got stuck in Manila traffic. The cities didn’t feel safe.
Tourism is a pillar of the country’s economic growth. So the travel industry is fixing some of the problems that vex visitors the most. A traveler will now find these five signs of a more supportive tourism industry:
- More free Wi-Fi and it works more often. Travelers in the Philippines who need to correspond with family or colleagues back home once waited until reaching a hotel, sometimes only to find the Wi-Fi didn’t work in the room. Now the Manila airport terminals have free Wi-Fi and it works with a quick, unconditional sign-on, no questions asked. Yep, just like airports anywhere, finally. Some long-distance coaches, Victory Liner for example, have Wi-Fi on their more modern buses. It may be slow, but it works.
- Manila is mostly traffic-free — at night. By day, a ride across Metro Manila takes 60 to 90 minutes. The city of 12 million people lacks in-town expressways or commuter rail stations compared to other Asian cities of its size. But a lot of Cebu Pacific flights land or take off after midnight, requiring ground transit at those hours to and from the airport. Have no fear: Traffic moves smoothly at night for relative lack of people on the roads. Long distance buses also leave Manila in the wee hours for other parts of Luzon Island, the country’s largest.
- The airport’s main international terminal has modernized. Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1, where most airlines base their international flights, once functioned so badly that a website for budget travelers rated it the world’s worst place to get a plane in 2011. The departure hall was so small that boarding pass lines would snake around awkwardly and get tangled. Some passengers reported thefts and lack of running water in the restrooms. Once past immigration, there wasn’t much to do except buy more souvenir dried mangoes for someone else back home. In 2015 the airport emerged from a 1.3 billion peso ($26 million) renovation that at least makes it look cleaner, gives passengers more space to line up and comes with more F&B choices.
- Airport Loop bus cuts out risky taxi trips. Grabbing a cab from the Manila airport into town isn’t just a cakewalk out to the curb. As of this week you could wait in three places for taxis of two colors and at least two pricing tiers. Travelers regularly complain of cab fare overcharges or drivers who won’t give change. There’s no light rail airport station. But a shuttle bus called Airport Loop goes to hotels and major intersections in Metro Manila for less than $1, per this review. The buses were apparently there all along but harder to spot and relied on an old fleet until a couple of years ago, this overview
- It’s getting safer to go out. The Philippines wasn’t ever categorically dangerous to the casual street roamer like some cities in the Americas. But clusters of people hanging out in front of graffiti-marred, disheveled cement buildings in the cities still unnerve a lot of foreigners. Thefts, pickpocketing and especially drug dealing have tapered markedly since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June. He has acted on his harshly worded pledges to eradicate crime even if it takes the extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects.