Iloilo City groomed as one of PH’s top tourism havens

Mayor Jerry Treñas delivers his message during a dinner hosted by the Iloilo City government for the participants of the Very Important Tour (VIP) 2023 at the Iloilo Convention Center on July 21. A total of 294 VIP tour participants, who are mostly US-based Filipinos, joined the 8-day tour that brought them to Metro Manila, Iloilo and Boracay. (Jennifer P. Rendon photo)

By Jennifer P. Rendon

For some, it’s the food. Others might have been drawn to the vibrancy showcased by its world-class Dinagyang Festival. Perhaps, it’s the rich cultural heritage.

But for visitors who have travelled to Iloilo City, the place transcends its La Paz batchoy, or its pancit Molo, or even biscocho bread.

Iloilo City also goes beyond its century-old churches or heritage houses.

Nestled in the heart of the Philippine archipelago, Iloilo City is also deemed as the center of business investment in the South.

On top of these, Iloilo City’s allure is magnified by its people.

And this did not go unnoticed by participants of the Very Important Pinoy (VIP) Tour 2023.

The VIP tour is a collaborative effort by the Department of Tourism and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Led by Consul General Neil Frank Ferrer, the tour attracted 294 participants, mostly US-based Filipinos from all over the United States. With around 120 participants, the biggest delegation is from Hawaii while 94 are from San Francisco.

In its 14th year, this year’s VIP Tour has also targeted youngsters.

Alejandra Clemente of Rajah Tours Philippines, the company that facilitated the tour, said they adjusted their tour package for the “millennials.”

Teenagers Justine and Aubrey, who are both from San Francisco, were all praises of the destinations and activities lined up for the VIP Tour participants.

“I really enjoyed the tour. I’m enjoying Iloilo City. It was fun,” he said.

Aside from Iloilo City, participants also went around Iloilo province.

Miag-ao was among the places included in the tour’s Iloilo-leg. They were shown the traditional “Budbud” salt-making industry in Miagao, Iloilo.

They also went to Islas de Gigantes in Carles town.

For Aubrey, the Islas de Gigantes trip was one of the most exciting places she had been to.

While it was probably an older people-dominated tour, the two youngsters saw the trip as a good opportunity to bond with their grandparents. It was the first time for them to be in Iloilo.

“And so far, it exceeded our expectations. I thought it was just one of those cities. But it’s unique. The bike lanes and the islands we’ve been to were fantastic. The beaches are the best thing,” Justine said.

That would be reason enough for them to come back, they added.

Meanwhile, Ron Morrison, mayor of National City in California, was one of the more than 20 Americans who availed of the tour.

“We’re very impressed with Iloilo City. The people here are very gracious. It’s obvious that there’s a lot going on in Iloilo City – new businesses and constructions all over,” he said.

It was the sixth VIP Tour that Morrison participated in, but it was the first time that Iloilo was included in the itinerary.

“The city looks clean and very well organized. It shows good cooperation between the local government and private companies,” he said.

Morrison, unlike most American tour participants, is not married to a Filipino.

But he knew the country well since National City is a sister city of Olongapo, where he is an adopted son.

On top of that, “around 20 percent of residents of National City are Filipinos,” he said.


Choosing Iloilo as one of the three destinations for this year’s VIP Tour was an easy decision for the organizers.

Clemente said there was a clamor for a new destination that participants have not seen.

“So aside from Metro Manila, we recommended Iloilo and Boracay. They’re so impressed with Iloilo City. They’re enjoying it so much,” she said.

Clemente said that the cooperation shown by Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas has been a major takeaway for them to pick the city.

In February 2024, another tour would bring around 400 Filipino-Canadians to Iloilo.

Clemente recalled visiting Iloilo in 2014 and at that time, “there was not so much here.”

Fast forward to nine years, “I saw the progress of the city and province of Iloilo,” she said.