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How Tourism Started In The Philippines


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Katee Houlihan



Welcome to the fascinating world of tourism in the Philippines! This Southeast Asian archipelago has become one of the most sought-after destinations for travelers around the globe. With its stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, vibrant culture, and warm hospitality, the Philippines offers a unique and unforgettable experience to visitors.


Tourism plays a significant role in the country’s economy, contributing to job creation, infrastructure development, and cultural exchange. It has become a thriving industry that showcases the rich natural wonders and cultural heritage of the Philippines.


In this article, we will delve into the early history of tourism in the Philippines and explore how it has evolved over the years. From the Spanish colonial era to the modern-day tourism boom, we will discuss the key developments and milestones that have shaped the industry.


Join us on this journey through time as we uncover the fascinating story of how tourism started in the Philippines and how it has played a crucial role in shaping the country’s identity and economy.


Early History of Tourism in the Philippines

The origins of tourism in the Philippines can be traced back to the pre-colonial period when the islands were inhabited by various indigenous tribes. These tribes welcomed visitors from neighboring communities and engaged in cultural exchanges, offering a glimpse into their vibrant traditions and way of life.


However, it wasn’t until the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century that tourism started to take shape in the Philippines. The Spanish were intrigued by the natural beauty of the islands and sought to exploit its resources and establish trade routes. The Spanish expeditions led by Ferdinand Magellan and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi paved the way for the colonization of the Philippines.


During this time, tourism was primarily limited to explorers, missionaries, and traders who ventured into the archipelago in search of wealth and evangelization. These early visitors marveled at the abundant flora, fauna, and breathtaking landscapes of the Philippine islands.


As the colonization progressed, the Spanish authorities recognized the potential of the Philippines as a tourism destination. They built infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and churches, to facilitate travel and encourage more visitors to explore the islands.


The Spanish government also promoted the Philippines as an exotic paradise, showcasing its natural wonders, fertile lands, and hospitable people. This marketing campaign aimed to entice European tourists to visit the archipelago and experience its unique culture.


One of the notable figures in the early history of Philippine tourism is Jose Rizal, a national hero and advocate of cultural preservation. Rizal’s writings and travel experiences served as a catalyst for the promotion of tourism in the country. His novel, “Noli Me Tangere,” depicted the beauty and richness of the Philippine culture, capturing the imaginations of readers and inspiring them to visit the islands.


By the end of the Spanish colonial era, tourism in the Philippines had primarily catered to European travelers and adventurers. However, it laid the groundwork for the future development of the industry by showcasing the country’s natural beauty, cultural heritage, and warm hospitality.


Spanish Colonial Era and Tourism

The Spanish colonial era had a profound impact on the development of tourism in the Philippines. The Spanish authorities saw the economic potential of the archipelago and sought ways to exploit its resources, including its natural beauty and cultural heritage, for tourism purposes.


Under Spanish rule, major cities and towns in the Philippines were established as the primary destinations for tourists. These urban centers, such as Manila and Cebu, became hubs of trade, commerce, and cultural exchange. The Spanish colonial architecture, characterized by grand churches, plazas, and fortresses, still stands as a testament to this era’s influence.


The Spanish government also encouraged the development of transportation infrastructure to facilitate travel within the archipelago. Roads, bridges, and ports were built to provide convenient access to various tourist sites.


Furthermore, the Catholic Church played a significant role in promoting tourism during the Spanish colonial era. Churches and religious sites became pilgrimage destinations, attracting local and foreign visitors. The annual Feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila, and the Sinulog Festival in Cebu, which commemorates the Santo Niño, are examples of religious events that draw crowds of tourists.


Aside from urban centers, the Spanish colonial authorities also recognized the allure of the Philippine islands’ natural beauty. The pristine beaches, lush mountains, and remarkable biodiversity became attractive destinations for travelers seeking relaxation, adventure, and exploration.


Cebu and Bohol, for instance, became known for their stunning landscapes and historical sites, such as the Chocolate Hills and the Baclayon Church. In the northern part of the Philippines, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Banaue Rice Terraces and the picturesque shores of Boracay Island captivated visitors from around the world.


During the Spanish colonial era, tourism in the Philippines predominantly catered to European travelers and adventurers. However, the Spanish authorities recognized the potential of attracting tourists from neighboring countries, such as China and Japan. They implemented policies to cultivate trade and cultural exchanges, hoping to entice more visitors to explore the archipelago.


Overall, the Spanish colonial era laid the foundation for the development of tourism in the Philippines. It established the infrastructure, promoted cultural heritage, and showcased the natural beauty of the islands. The Spanish influence can still be seen today in the vibrant culture, architecture, and historical sites that continue to attract tourists from all corners of the globe.


American Colonial Era and Tourism

The American colonial era marked a significant turning point in the development of tourism in the Philippines. With the arrival of the Americans in 1898, a new wave of influence and opportunities emerged, impacting various aspects of Philippine society, including the tourism industry.


Under American rule, efforts were made to modernize and develop the country’s infrastructure, including transportation systems, communication networks, and public facilities. This focus on infrastructure laid the foundation for the growth of tourism in the Philippines.


The Americans recognized the potential of the archipelago as a tourist destination and actively promoted it as such. They capitalized on the country’s natural beauty, cultural diversity, and historical heritage to attract visitors from all over the world.


One of the significant developments during this era was the opening of Manila as a major port, facilitating the arrival of steamships and increasing accessibility to the Philippines. This led to an influx of tourists, including European and American travelers, who were keen to explore the archipelago.


The establishment of beach resorts and hotels in popular destinations such as Baguio, Subic Bay, and Tagaytay further fueled tourism growth under American colonial rule. These leisure destinations offered visitors opportunities for relaxation, entertainment, and engagement with the local culture.


Moreover, the American colonial administration actively promoted Philippine festivals and cultural events to attract tourists. They recognized the value of the vibrant traditions and celebrations that were deeply rooted in Filipino culture.


The most famous of these festivals is the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan. The Ati-Atihan, which translates to “to be like Atis,” is a vibrant and colorful festival that honors the Santo Niño (Child Jesus). It involves participants donning traditional indigenous attire and dancing rhythmically in the streets, creating a festive atmosphere that captivates locals and tourists alike.


During the American colonial era, the marketing of the Philippines as a tourist destination expanded beyond just its natural wonders. The Philippine Constabulary Band, for instance, was formed to promote tourism and cultural exchange. The band toured the United States, showcasing traditional Filipino music, dances, and costumes, sparking interest in the archipelago as a must-visit destination.


The American colonial era played a significant role in shaping the tourism industry in the Philippines. The focus on infrastructure development, the promotion of cultural events, and the accessibility of the archipelago to international visitors laid the foundation for the expansion of tourism in the years to come.


Japanese Occupation and Tourism

The Japanese occupation of the Philippines from 1942 to 1945 had a significant impact on the tourism industry. The occupation period was marked by tumultuous times, with the Japanese forces imposing strict control and restrictions on the country. This resulted in a significant decline in tourism activities.


During this era, the Japanese authorities primarily focused on consolidating their control over the Philippines and utilizing its resources for their wartime efforts. Tourism took a backseat as the country was grappling with the challenges of occupation, including food shortages, forced labor, and curfews.


Travel restrictions were imposed, making it difficult for both local residents and foreigners to move freely within the islands. The tourism infrastructure, which was already under strain due to the ongoing war, suffered further neglect and deterioration.


However, despite the challenging circumstances, there were some instances of tourism-related activities during the Japanese occupation. The Japanese organized cultural events and exhibitions to promote cultural exchanges between the occupiers and the local population.


One notable event was the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere Exhibition held in Manila in 1943. The exhibition aimed to showcase the cultures and resources of Japan and its occupied territories, including the Philippines. It provided a glimpse into the Japanese arts, traditions, and technological advancements, albeit under the guise of propaganda.


The exhibition attracted some visitors, including local Filipinos and foreign residents who were allowed limited access. However, the overall impact on tourism was minimal, given the prevailing wartime conditions and the restrictions imposed by the Japanese authorities.


It is important to note that tourism during the Japanese occupation was primarily limited to propaganda-driven cultural events organized by the occupiers. The focus was less on developing the tourism industry and more on exerting control and maintaining order in the occupied territories.


Overall, the Japanese occupation had a detrimental effect on the tourism industry in the Philippines. The restrictions, wartime conditions, and neglect of infrastructure during this period led to a decline in tourism activities. However, it is crucial to understand this chapter in Philippine history as it sets the stage for the post-war period and the subsequent development of the tourism industry.


Post-War Period and Tourism Development

The post-war period in the Philippines marked a time of rebuilding and development, including the revitalization of the tourism industry. With the end of World War II, the country focused on recovery and establishing a foundation for economic growth, in which tourism played a crucial role.


After the war, the Philippine government recognized the importance of tourism as a means to stimulate economic growth and promote cultural exchange. Efforts were made to rebuild and improve infrastructure, such as roads, airports, and hotels, to accommodate the influx of tourists.


The United States played a significant role in the post-war development of tourism in the Philippines. American troops stationed in the country during the war had the chance to experience its natural beauty and cultural heritage, creating a strong interest in visiting the Philippines among their fellow countrymen.


The Philippine government, with the support of the United States, launched campaigns and promotional initiatives to attract American tourists. The “Wow Philippines” campaign, introduced in the 1950s, aimed to showcase the country’s diverse attractions, including its pristine beaches, archaeological sites, and vibrant festivals.


Tourism development during this period was not without challenges. The country had to overcome the reputation of being a war-torn nation and assure potential visitors of its safety and stability. The government implemented measures to improve security, promote peace, and restore confidence in the Philippines as a tourist destination.


One significant milestone in the post-war era was the establishment of the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) in 1973. The PTA was tasked with promoting tourism and coordinating initiatives to develop and improve tourist destinations across the country.


A key focus of the PTA was the development of Boracay Island, which was relatively unknown to international tourists at the time. Through concerted efforts to market and develop the island’s tourism potential, Boracay transformed into one of the most popular beach destinations in the world.


The post-war period also witnessed the rise of international tourism organizations, such as the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA), which aimed to promote travel to and within the Asia-Pacific region. The Philippines actively participated in PATA events and campaigns, further boosting its visibility and appeal as a tourist destination.


Overall, the post-war period was a time of growth and development for the tourism industry in the Philippines. With the support of the government, international organizations, and a focus on infrastructure and promotional campaigns, the country emerged as a popular and emerging destination for global travelers.


Tourism in the Marcos Era

The Marcos era, particularly the rule of President Ferdinand Marcos from 1965 to 1986, had a significant impact on the tourism industry in the Philippines. During this time, efforts were made to promote tourism as a means of showcasing the country’s beauty and attracting foreign investments.


One of the notable developments during the Marcos era was the establishment of the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) in 1973. The PTA was tasked with creating and implementing strategies to promote tourism and develop tourist destinations across the country.


Under the leadership of First Lady Imelda Marcos, the government launched several grand tourism projects to enhance the country’s appeal to international tourists. This included the development of luxurious resorts, such as the Manila Hotel and the Coconut Palace, which aimed to showcase both the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the Philippines.


The Marcos administration also sought to promote the country’s historical and heritage sites, such as the walled city of Intramuros in Manila and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Baroque Churches of the Philippines. Special efforts were made to restore and preserve these sites to attract visitors interested in the country’s rich history and architecture.


The tourism industry during the Marcos era was not without controversy. The government heavily promoted the country as a glamorous destination while political repression and human rights violations were occurring. The regime’s focus on tourism development also led to the displacement of indigenous communities and environmental concerns.


Despite the controversies, the Marcos era saw a significant increase in tourist arrivals, with tourism becoming an important source of revenue for the country. The government invested in infrastructure development, including the expansion of international airports and improvement of transportation networks, to enhance accessibility and accommodate the growing number of visitors.


Furthermore, the Marcos administration actively courted international events and conferences to boost the Philippines’ visibility and position it as a center for global exchange. The country hosted the Miss Universe pageant in 1974, drawing international attention and attracting visitors interested in pageantry and entertainment.


Overall, the Marcos era had a mixed impact on the tourism industry in the Philippines. While it saw substantial growth and development, there were also controversies and issues of social and environmental concerns. The grand tourism projects and promotional efforts during this time laid the foundation for further tourism development in the post-Marcos period, setting the stage for the industry’s modernization and expansion.


The 1980s and Tourism Modernization

The 1980s marked a period of significant modernization and transformation for the tourism industry in the Philippines. During this decade, the government implemented various initiatives to enhance tourism infrastructure, promote sustainable development, and attract international visitors.


Under the leadership of President Ferdinand Marcos, the government introduced the Tourism Act of 1980. This landmark legislation aimed to promote the country as a tourist destination, stimulate investments in the tourism sector, and ensure sustainable development practices.


One of the key developments during this time was the promotion of ecotourism and the protection of natural resources. The government recognized the need to preserve the country’s biodiversity, pristine beaches, and unique ecosystems. This led to the establishment of marine protected areas, national parks, and nature reserves, which aimed to balance tourism growth with environmental preservation.


Additionally, the 1980s saw a significant expansion in tourism infrastructure. Airports were upgraded, and new airport terminals were constructed to accommodate the growing number of international visitors. The government also invested in improving road networks, transportation facilities, and accommodations to provide a more convenient and comfortable experience for tourists.


Furthermore, tourism promotion campaigns were launched to showcase the diverse attractions of the Philippines. The “Philippines: More Than the Usual” campaign, introduced in the mid-1980s, sought to highlight the country’s cultural heritage, adventure tourism opportunities, and unique experiences beyond the typical beach destinations. Through targeted marketing efforts, the Philippines aimed to attract a broader range of international visitors.


The 1980s also witnessed an increase in international tourism events and conferences held in the Philippines. These events, such as the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Conference, allowed the country to showcase its tourism potential and establish its position as a destination for business and leisure travelers.


However, it is important to note that the political instability during the Marcos regime and social unrest in the country during this period had an impact on tourism. The tourism industry faced challenges due to concerns over safety and political turmoil.


Despite these challenges, the 1980s marked a significant shift towards modernization and sustainable development in the Philippine tourism industry. The government’s focus on infrastructure development, environmental conservation, and targeted marketing campaigns laid the foundation for the continued growth and diversification of the industry in the years to come.


Tourism in the Post-Marcos Era

The post-Marcos era in the Philippines brought about a period of transition and transformation in the tourism industry. Following the ousting of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the country underwent political and social changes that had a significant impact on the tourism landscape.


One of the immediate priorities for the new government was to address the issues of political stability and restore international confidence in the country as a safe and desirable tourist destination. Efforts were made to promote transparency, democracy, and human rights, which helped rebuild the nation’s image and attract international visitors.


During this era, the Philippines witnessed a significant shift in tourism policies and strategies. The government recognized the importance of sustainable tourism development, focusing on the preservation of natural resources and the empowerment of local communities.


Ecotourism emerged as a key component of the post-Marcos tourism industry, with an emphasis on responsible travel practices and the protection of the country’s rich biodiversity. Community-based tourism initiatives were implemented, allowing local communities to actively participate in and benefit from tourism activities.


Furthermore, the government invested in infrastructure development to improve accessibility to various tourist destinations. Airports were expanded, and new domestic routes were established, making it easier for both domestic and international tourists to explore different parts of the country.


Marketing efforts were also intensified to promote the Philippines as a diverse and compelling destination. The “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, launched in 2012, showcased the country’s natural beauty, cultural heritage, and warm hospitality. Through creative and engaging marketing materials, the campaign successfully captured the attention of international travelers, resulting in increased tourist arrivals.


The post-Marcos era also witnessed the rise of social media and digital marketing, playing a significant role in promoting the Philippines as a tourist destination. The use of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube allowed for wider reach and engagement with potential travelers.


Another notable development in the post-Marcos era was the diversification of tourism offerings. The Philippines began to tap into niche markets such as adventure tourism, culinary tourism, and medical tourism, capitalizing on the country’s natural landscapes, unique cuisine, and quality healthcare services.


Overall, the post-Marcos era marked a period of rebuilding and growth for the tourism industry in the Philippines. The emphasis on sustainable development, infrastructure improvement, marketing innovations, and diversification of tourism offerings contributed to the country’s continued emergence as a popular and vibrant destination for global travelers.


Contemporary Tourism in the Philippines

Contemporary tourism in the Philippines represents a dynamic and flourishing industry that continues to thrive, offering diverse and captivating experiences to travelers from around the world. With its stunning natural landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and warm hospitality, the Philippines has become a must-visit destination for both leisure and adventure seekers.


One of the significant trends in contemporary tourism is the growing popularity of sustainable and responsible travel. Travelers are increasingly seeking environmentally friendly and community-focused experiences. The Philippine government, along with tourism stakeholders, has responded to this demand by promoting and implementing sustainable tourism practices. This includes protecting marine and terrestrial ecosystems, supporting local communities, and preserving cultural traditions.


Beach destinations, such as Boracay, Palawan, and Siargao, remain immensely popular among tourists. These pristine islands boast turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and vibrant marine life, offering opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, diving, and other water-based activities.


Adventure tourism has also gained traction in the Philippines. The country’s diverse geography, with mountains, volcanoes, and caves, attracts thrill-seekers looking for hiking, mountaineering, spelunking, and other adrenaline-pumping activities. Destinations like Mt. Pulag, Mayon Volcano, and the Underground River in Palawan have become favorites for adventure enthusiasts.


Cultural tourism is another significant aspect of contemporary tourism in the Philippines. The country’s rich history, influenced by various colonizers and indigenous tribes, has left a remarkable cultural heritage. Cities like Manila, Cebu, and Iloilo showcase historical sites, museums, and festivals that provide insights into the country’s colorful past.


The Philippines has also emerged as a culinary hotspot, with its diverse regional cuisines attracting food lovers from around the world. From the savory flavors of street food to the exquisite delicacies of fine dining restaurants, Filipino cuisine offers a unique gastronomic experience that reflects the country’s cultural diversity and creativity.


Digital technology has played a significant role in the contemporary tourism landscape. The use of social media, travel apps, and online booking platforms has revolutionized how travelers plan and experience their Philippine adventure. It has democratized travel information, allowing even small-scale establishments and destinations to gain visibility and promote their offerings.


Tourism events and festivals continue to draw crowds and provide memorable experiences. The Sinulog Festival in Cebu, Panagbenga Festival in Baguio, and Kadayawan Festival in Davao are just a few examples of annual celebrations that showcase the vibrant culture, tradition, and artistic talent of the Filipino people.


Medical tourism has also seen significant growth. The Philippines is recognized for its world-class medical facilities and highly skilled healthcare professionals, making it a popular destination for medical treatments and procedures at competitive prices.


As the Philippines embraces the increasing opportunities in the tourism industry, there is a commitment to sustainable and responsible tourism practices. This ensures the preservation of the country’s natural wonders, cultural heritage, and the well-being of local communities, while offering unforgettable experiences to visitors.


With its breathtaking landscapes, warm hospitality, and vibrant culture, contemporary tourism in the Philippines continues to captivate and inspire travelers, solidifying its position as an emerging global destination.



The Philippines has come a long way in its journey as a tourism destination. From its early history of welcoming traders and explorers to the modern-day thriving industry, the Philippines has captivated the hearts of travelers from all walks of life.


The early history of tourism in the Philippines, influenced by Spanish colonization and American rule, laid the foundation for the industry’s development. These eras showcased the country’s natural beauty, heritage sites, and cultural diversity, attracting visitors who were captivated by the archipelago’s charm.


During the Marcos era, tourism in the Philippines saw grand projects and developmental initiatives. While controversial, the emphasis on infrastructure, cultural promotion, and international events set the stage for further growth and modernization.


In the post-Marcos era, the country underwent significant changes. The focus shifted towards sustainable development, community involvement, and the prioritization of preserving natural resources. The Philippines embraced ecotourism, diversified its tourism offerings, and adopted digital marketing strategies to attract a broader range of global travelers.


Contemporary tourism in the Philippines showcases the country’s stunning landscapes, vibrant cultures, and diverse experiences. Beach destinations, adventure tourism, cultural heritage sites, culinary delights, and festivals continue to enthrall visitors from around the world.


As the tourism industry in the Philippines continues to flourish, there is a commitment to sustainability and responsible travel practices. The government, alongside tourism stakeholders, seeks to preserve the country’s natural wonders, empower local communities, and provide authentic and meaningful experiences to travelers.


The future of tourism in the Philippines holds great promise. With its continued focus on sustainable development, infrastructure improvement, and marketing innovation, the Philippines is poised to become an even more attractive and sought-after destination.


Whether it’s lounging on a pristine beach, embarking on an exhilarating adventure, immersing in the country’s rich cultures, or indulging in its culinary delights, the Philippines offers a wealth of experiences for every traveler’s taste and preference.


So pack your bags, immerse yourself in the warm hospitality of the Filipino people, and prepare for an unforgettable journey through the breathtaking landscapes and vibrant culture of the Philippines.