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A 360-degree tour of RP
Source: Manila Bulletin
Date: 2009-11-14

Consider this. A would be traveler from cold Scandinavia can have a virtual walking tour of the famed White Beach in sunny Boracay from his living room.

By clicking the mouse, a high-resolution, seamless panoramic view of the white sand-hemmed emerald sea begins to revolve 360 degrees to the right like he was standing on the beach himself!

From the fantastic view of the green sea, he’ll see half the stretch of the 4-km long, northern alabaster coast as the panorama pivots slowly to the right as he guides the movement with his mouse, then the beautiful beachfront hotels under the palm trees appear, then the white beach again, facing south, and back to the view of the glimmering azure sea.

The independent traveler is using the Internet’s newest system that gives information wherein he can select his own room and book it online instantly, including a virtual tour of the destination and the amenities of the hotel he will be staying in.

That means he can get all the information on his fingertips on where to spend his holiday and not where his travel agent wants him to go. Therefore, he becomes empowered as a solo traveler from thereon.

This virtual tour of Boracay, which will be the first in the world, will become a reality in mid-2010.

The proposed program aims to contribute to the competitiveness and market access of tourism enterprises and attractions in Malay, Aklan, the town in mainland Panay which has jurisdiction over the island resort of Boracay.

With a project duration from four to six months, its outcome will be an extensive digital content development and internet market access to approximately 150 tourism products: 125 accommodation providers, 25 activity/community-tourism providers in Boracay done by professional tourism photographers and travel writers who will gather digital content and tour product developers.

“This project was conceptualized in 2002 by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a United Nations (UN) agency and member of the World Bank, which finances projects in developing countries,” explains Helen Clayton-Atanacio, a local MPO (Marketplace Operator) of a website and owner of the ten-room premium Boracay Hills, a multi-awarded boutique hotel located in a secluded area of the southern end of the 7-km long island.

“The project aims to develop different online models for distributing travel products in the developing world like the Philippines, which maximizes benefits while income is retained locally,” says the 38-year-old native of Yorkshire, England who has a degree on archaeology and is married to a Filipino chef Christopher Atanacio.

She met her husband in 1997 who was the salad chef in a restaurant aboard a Renaissance cruise ship, and a mean guitarist while off duty.

The pilot work was done in the Mekong region soon after its launch and by late 2005, a new Internet-based model was started and was successful. In early 2006, the project was spun off as a private company, Limited (WHL) in order that the benefits could be scaled to the global market.

As of June this year, WHL has expanded the network considerably to over 160 live destination sites (plus another 60 under construction in 100 countries, including the Philippines.)

Marketplace operators like Atanacio act as travel intermediaries whose role is to locate all the local tourism products in their destination (local hotels, inns, etc., plus local tours, activities and transport) and then load this onto their web site which WHL provides them.

To support the cost of their service, they charge the local hotels, tour companies, etc. a commission on bookings which now stays in-country, in the local community.

“I got involved with WHL very early on because I was trying to promote Boracay in the world market when I first moved here from England in late 2003,” says the expert on online tourism marketing.

“During that time, there was very little in the Internet for the Philippines and Boracay, absolutely nothing!” continues Atanacio, who lives with her family at the elegant, leafy 3,500-square-meter property of the former Swiss ambassador to the Philippines, which is now the three-star Boracay Hills Hotel. “Hardly anybody was marketing Boracay at all.

“I want to build a website that’s informative about Boracay initially, and I want to grow to the whole Philippines as well, that’s why I got involved with WHL,” explains Atanacio, a former chief purser of a Renaissance cruise ship. “I bought their franchise four years ago. I didn’t do a lot with it to begin with, but now, we’re really rolling.

“Now, WHL has developed a consultancy, WHL Consulting (WHLC), which is incredibly skilled at coming to a destination,” says Helen, Boracay Foundation, Inc.’s (BFI) board secretary and co-chair committee on marketing and promotion.

“It looks at what are missing, provides the skills training to all the establishments, provides the digital content, the copyright content, and all those things that are needed to enable them to be a player in an international marketplace.”

Based on the WHLC report, the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Boracay which are currently engaged in online booking at the product level have poor advanced booking policies, they have poor digital content, limited written copy about the product, limited understanding of the Internet and e-commerce, and no pricing structures for on/offline distribution.

“Now, the WHLC has developed a turnkey project to come to any destination and conduct a market readiness survey,” explains Helen.

“They’ll look at all the establishments for them to get together, then we decide which small medium enterprises (SMS) should benefit from the project.

“We can actually cover for the funding that we’re looking for—150 business establishments here in Boracay,” points out Atanacio. “So, this is a big project here in the island, and hopefully, in the whole province of Aklan as well. “They’ll also do market access training seminars—what the market is, how you can penetrate it, and how you should work and all about yield and commissions,” she adds. “Including how to pull out your unique selling point, how to actually play the system and make the most profit.”

The actual budget of the Boracay project would be something like P5.8 million, with the WHLC providing P3.6 million through an innovative system wherein they would ask for empty inventory from the hotels and then sell them online. So, the SMEs will just cover the P2.2 million balance.

According to Atanacio, SMEs which will be part of the project in Boracay will be given free, upgraded websites, which are e-commerce enabled.

So, more than paying a brochure online, travelers can make a booking online and pay with their credit card.

Aside from the huge digital content collection project, whose beautiful photographs can be used by a hotel in its brochure in the Internet, it can also avail of the newly developed 360-degree immersive tour of its facilities to further entice its prospective independent traveler clientele.

[ Boracay Wiki ]


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