Concepcion Family during their safari trip in South Africa.

As I finish this column, I’m on my way back to Manila after a short trip to South Africa. For the past years, every summer break, we as a family would sail the Philippine seas in our dive boat, exploring the marine life and discovering the breathtaking corners of our beautiful islands. But this time, since my daughter Catherine will be getting married in June, we had decided to do something different for the summer break.

It was, in fact, 18 years ago when my wife and I last visited South Africa, but it was for a work-related activity. I remem­ber it being quite exciting, but this year proved to be even better as I was able to bring along my four daughters and lovely spouse. (My only son and his wife just had a baby boy, so they could not join us.) As the sole male traveler in the party, I must admit, it was challenging travelling with five women – albeit entertaining as well!

Our safari experience started in Londolozi, a private game reserve situated on the Sand River, within the Greater Kruger National Park.

Our daily activities usually kicked off at 5:30 a.m. when the wildlife was most active. South Africa and its neighboring countries are known for these kinds of safari adventures and have attracted so many tourists from all over the world. You can find ac­commodations fit for every type of traveler and budget. You can live in the most luxurious hotel or just an af­fordable camp and see the same wildlife. You get two game drives a day; one in the morning and another in the late afternoon when it starts to get cooler.

On our first game drive, luck was on our side and my daughter spotted a lion, who led us to a pride of 11 more. It was a thrilling experience to have the majestic creatures surround our open jeep. But our ranger and tracker assured us that we would be safe. We stayed with the pride of lions and were eventually joined by another jeep.

As night came, we learned that the lions usually go to hunt at dusk, so both jeepneys had to shut down their lights and hide in bushes that rose five feet tall. We then had the most amazing opportunity of watching the entire pride feed and fight over one impala.

Those five days in the great unknown with my fam­ily were truly memorable. During my trip, I realized that if one country can attract so many tourists by leveraging their natural attractions and focusing on them, then the Philippines can do the same. We may not have the same safari wildlife experience, but we can offer something so much more which can only be experienced on our 7,600 islands.

We have an “Africa” of the sea with the Tubbataha Reef, which is abundant with sharks. In the Philip­pines, where else can you swim with a school of sardines like in Moalboal, whale sharks in Oslob, dol­phins in Balicasag, dugongs in Busuanga, and thresher sharks and manta rays in Malapascua? While we don’t have safaris and desert dunes like in the Kalahari, we have breathtaking white sand beaches that stretch for kilometers like those in Boracay. There’s the majestic sandbar of Kalanggaman in Leyte, the picture-perfect waves in Siargao, serene twin lakes in Coron, and the paradise islands of El Nido and Linapacan. These are just a few of the beautiful assets of the country; the list goes on!

It is clear that our home – its island beaches, diverse marine life and wild life, rich culture, and, of course, Filipino hospitality – make it a unique destination. This is what attracts the global market and propels tourism in our country.

In my presentation to President Duterte three weeks ago, I highlighted the need to focus on tourism, agri­culture, and digitalization in the next three years as these pose the greatest potential in helping Filipinos rise from poverty and uplift the national economy. This is why on May 2, we will host the first ever tourism summit, launched by the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Philippines and Go Negosyo, in partnership with the Department of Tourism.

South Africa welcomes close to 15 million tourists a year. Our neighbor Thailand has around 38 million tourists, while we are targeting 8.2 million tourist ar­rivals this year. Imagine if we can breach the 10 million mark in just three years! It may seem like an impos­sible feat, but we can do it! The key to this is building greater access for the global market through our ports and airports and improving connectivity.

The private sector is one in supporting President Duterte and Sec. Berna Puyat; we hope to make tour­ism a game-changer in creating prosperity for all Filipinos!