New Spin On Philippine Tourism

Places around the world have long featured off-the-beaten-track tours to their roster of ways to experience a country's culture, architecture and history. In the Philippines where adventure travel is gaining momentum, both local and foreign travelers alike are seeing a slew of tour companies that offer different ways of exploring the Philippines.

One such company is Beyond Outdoor Adventures, Inc. (BOA), which offers recreational cycling tours to different Philippine eco-tourism destinations. Founded by cycling enthusiasts and bike shop owners Benjie Lopez and Hans Co, BOA began as a conduit of a Bangkok-based bike touring company that catered to the foreign market. "We were the local leg of that firm for the Philippines as it was their first time to enter the market. Once we got our foot wet in the business, we decided we also wanted to spin it off on our own," Lopez shares.

The dynamic duo - also co-owners of GranTrail Cycles, Inc., a four-branch retail outfit that carries bike brands like Niner, GT and Haro, among others - started BOA almost two years ago, with a 10-day tour that took tourists from Metro Manila to Laguna, Tagaytay, San Pablo, Quezon, and all the way to Donsol, Sorsogon. "We want to promote tourism in a different way," says Lopez. "A lot of people do family trips outside Metro Manila via car, but cycling lends a very different experience. You'll be passing the same roads, but you notice things on a bike that you wouldn't normally notice inside the car or a bus. You can also easily stop and talk to the locals, go into different routes, even go up a hill or mountain, and you find areas that are hidden. It makes traveling more experiential," he says.

Focus On The Local Market

Details that emerged from the Department of Tourism reveal that in 2011, domestic tourism generated P1,019.2 billion in tourism receipts, comprising 88.7 percent of the country's total tourism receipts. This figure is projected to grow by 56 percent (P1,587.3 billion) by 2016, driven in large part by the increase in local travelers, domestic trips made, and expenditure per day.

It is exactly this burgeoning market that BOA seeks to tap. "The thing that we did with Beyond Outdoors is that we wanted to tap the local market. Before, with the tour conduit in Bangkok, we'd have around a minimum of two and a maximum of four tours in a month; and these are often 10- to 12-day tours catered to Europeans. But because there's a slowdown in their economy, that market was hit. So we're trying to rework everything and tap more the local and Southeast Asian market, which we realize is also a bigger market," Lopez shares.

One of the company's strategies was to introduce more day trips and shorter tours in the Luzon area. Currently, the company offers regular tours to San Pablo, Wawa Dam, La Mesa Dam, Nuvali, and Tarlac. It also features longer trips to Bicol, Baguio, Quezon Province, Puerto Galera and Ilocos. Soon, it will introduce a Visayas leg that covers around 250 kilometers of road that it is currently mapping out.

Customized Tours

Going on a BOA bike tour does not necessarily mean less leisure and more exercise - although shedding off a couple of pounds during vacation is icing on the cake. "You don't really have to bike all the way," Lopez assures. "Depending on how strong you are, you can either take the whole route or take on a lighter, more scenic approach. We usually have a vehicle - or two, depending on how big your group is - following our bikers. You can opt to bike all the way or ride in the vehicle," he says.

Tours are tailored to a group's preference. Instead of offering a fixed, full-blown package, Lopez shares that they start with a base budget. "You add on to the base budget depending on the amenities you want to get," he says. A day trip costs as low as P2,500 to P3,500, which already includes bike rental, while an overnighter would cost around P5,500 to P6,000. "It depends on the services you want to add on, and your choice of accommodation," Lopez informs. "We even offer butler services for those who'd want to have someone buy stuff in a local market, etc.," he adds.

While BOA isn't exactly the first bike touring company in the country, it is the first who's trying to professionalize the industry. "A lot of those organizing bike tours are individuals, mostly mountaineers who'd sometimes want to go on mountain bikes during their summit climbs. They do so at their own pace and at their own time. But what we're trying to do right now is to have fixed monthly departures that travelers can check online," Lopez shares.

Every project, Co adds, is also a community initiative. "For every trail we have, we really talk to the locals, the LGUs. Part of BOA's advocacy is to be connected to the local communities," he says, adding that it is this aspect of their bike tours that draws tourists in. "We observed that getting to know the locals are actually the best feature of our bike tours. Most of our guests love interacting with them as it gives them a closer look into the people's culture."

"It's not even the thrust of our local government to push our brand of tourism," Lopez adds. "But we're here because we see its potential, and it's always been our passion and advocacy to promote sustainable eco-tourism. There are plenty of opportunities in the Philippines for outdoor adventure, and while our business model doesn't necessarily include staying at your typical five-star hotel, it definitely enables you to see the Philippines in a different way," he ends.