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MANILA, Philippines — Itching to get out of the country for your next adventure? Well, you’re not alone! As most Asian countries have eased travel restrictions, more Filipinos have been going on international trips since the pandemic put everyone’s travel plans on hold.
2020 was considered the worst year for tourism in history, and worldwide travel declined globally by 74% due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend carried on for the next several months as countries continued to close down borders to prevent the spread of the virus. It was only in 2022 when travel finally made its official comeback, when international tourist arrivals more than doubled compared to the previous two years.
The longing for post-pandemic traveling even came with a new term, revenge travel, which describes the feeling of wanting to make up for the lost travel time in the pandemic. Filipinos were struck by this desire to travel, too – according to travel platform Klook, 2022 saw an 87% increase in bookings for domestic destinations.
International travel also saw a huge increase when travel restrictions eased.
Rappler obtained data on outbound Filipino tourists collected by the Bureau of Immigration from January 2018 to July 2023, to track the increase in international travels after the COVID-19 pandemic.
More and more Filipinos started to go on trips around Asia in March 2022. Meanwhile, June 2023 saw the highest number of tourists leave the country for Asian destinations since the pandemic.
China, Singapore, and Japan emerged as the top countries of post-pandemic international travel for Filipinos. Note that these countries have consistently been the top travel destinations for Filipinos, even before the pandemic.
Whether you’re a frequent traveler or someone taking their first trip abroad, these three countries have a lot to offer for all kinds of people.
Still, it might be a bit intimidating to plan a trip, especially if you have no clue where to start. Rappler took a look at online data to help you decide where to go next.
We were able to collect public Instagram posts from January 1, 2022 to September 15, 2023 about traveling in China, Singapore, and Japan. Then, we used natural language processing algorithms to determine what was most talked about in the posts to narrow down the most popular destinations.
Singapore, the first to make a comeback
Singapore was the first Asian country to bounce back to pre-pandemic numbers. The Lion City can thank its quick recovery to its decision to open borders to fully vaccinated travelers in April 2022, and the fact that Filipino passport holders don’t need a visa to enter the country.
Our Instagram data showed that the two most common pairs of words related to Singapore were “marina” and “bay” and “gardens” and “bay”, referring to Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay respectively.
Marina Bay Sands is both a resort and architectural eye candy – it houses luxury boutiques, casinos, conference halls, theaters, museums, and much more. It also houses Gardens by the Bay, a nature park spanning over 100 hectares for nature enthusiasts.
Another key term from the Singapore data was food. A closer look at the data showed that food-related posts mainly talked about the country’s many hawker centers, a piece of culture so important to Singaporean life that it’s on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Live events are also a big part of what fueled Singapore’s return as a premier travel destination. In fact, Google Insight Trends show a huge spike in Google searches for “Singapore” when pop superstar Taylor Swift released her Asian show dates for The Eras Tour. Similarly, some other past live events, such as the Formula 1 races, are not held in the Philippines, making Singapore a more accessible option for many Filipinos.
China and the charms of its cities and provinces
Unlike Singapore, China – including the surrounding regions of Hong Kong and Macau – took a bit of time to get back to its pre-pandemic numbers as quarantine protocols for travelers were only lifted in January of this year.
Before the pandemic, China was the top destination for Filipinos with around twice as many visitors compared to Singapore, based on government data. This comes as no surprise as the Philippines and China have a long, shared history. In the Philippines, about two-fifths of all people of foreign descent are Chinese, and several Chinatowns – including Binondo, the oldest in the world – are a testament to how significant the Chinese community is to the country.
Additionally, government data on tourist departures may not account for incidents where Filipinos seek work abroad using tourist visas. Previously, the Philippine government was urged to help around 200,000 undocumented Filipino workers in China.
On Instagram, China is often associated with culture, nature, and architecture.
Beijing and Shanghai are must-sees for first-time travelers, as these were some of the most frequently mentioned destinations in China on Instagram. Both places offer a mix of traditional Chinese culture and modern Chinese innovation, such as the Forbidden City and the Shanghai Tower.
The Instagram data also showed high interest in other nearby provinces, such as the coastal province of Jiangsu and its capital Nanjing. The province’s Qinhuai River offers guests a beautiful view of the surrounding scenery, and the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum pays homage to icon Dr. Sun Yat-sen while offering guests a beautiful, Instagram-worthy view. Jiangsu also hosts part of the Grand Canal, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest and longest man-made waterways in the world.
Hiking enthusiasts on Instagram turned to Xinjiang, located in Northwest China, to satiate their mountaineering tendencies. Xinjiang offers a selection of unique trails for mountaineers of all kinds.
The data also showed that other mountains were also commonly associated with this region of China. The Tian Shan and Pamir Mountains are known for picnicking and snow-capped peaks, respectively. The Huoyan Mountains, also dubbed the Flaming Mountains, stand tall with a distinctive red shade, metaphorically representing the extreme heat in the summer.
If mountains aren’t your thing, Xinjiang also offers a variety of cultural experiences, such as Kashgar Old City. It is home to the biggest mosque in China and showcases traditional Uighur architecture. Archaeology connoisseurs will also appreciate the abandoned Silk Road city in Gaochang Ancient City.
Instagram users also talked about Hong Kong in travel-related posts on China. Hong Kong is a complete change of pace from China – while Instagram users often talked about nature in posts related to China, they mostly talked about art and fashion in posts about Hong Kong.
Areas like Tsim Sha Tsui and Central are known for their diverse shopping options, with shops from big-name international brands to small boutiques. Meanwhile, visitors looking for a good deal can drop by the street markets in Mong Kok or Yau Ma Tei for both clothing and trinkets.
Japan and its diverse cultural offerings
Just like China, Japan was one of the last countries to open its borders to tourists. In July 2022, tourists with a negative COVID-19 test or three full vaccinations were allowed to enter only if they were on guided tours. It was only in October that year when the government decided to welcome tourists without tours from travel agencies.
These setbacks did not stop Japan from being one of the top three travel destinations for Filipinos since the pandemic. Despite the visa requirements and language barrier, Japan saw around 50,000 Filipino tourists visit during its peak in April 2023 – a big jump from the 9,000 tourists from the year before.
You can’t mention Japan without bringing up Tokyo, which is among the most mentioned words in the Japan dataset.
Tokyo is home to the sprawling metropolis of Shibuya and Shinjuku, where you can spend your day shopping for whimsical fashion or relax in one of the cities’ picturesque cafes. (READ: Want to do revenge travel in Tokyo? Here’s what you need to know)
Once the sun sets, the cities start to change – izakayas and clubs start to open up, inviting both locals and tourists to dance the night away.
Japan is also known for its vibrant pop culture. Otakus, or anime, video game, and manga lovers, can also check out Ikebukuro, one of the most frequently mentioned districts on Instagram. Ikebukuro, a major entertainment district and home to the biggest Animate store in the country, will definitely excite all kinds of Japanese pop culture fans.
For kids and kids at heart, Instagram users tend to frequent Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea – the latter a destination exclusive to Japan.
Among the hustle and bustle of these places, Asakusa also stands out from the data, a go-to for travelers interested in learning more about Japanese culture. The iconic Senso-ji, an ancient buddhist temple, is surrounded by other significant cultural spots, such as the Nakamise-dori, a famous shopping street.
There’s much to see outside of Tokyo – in fact, Kyoto emerged second to Tokyo in terms of relevance in the data. While words closely related to Tokyo often talked about city life, such as “street,” “cafe,” and “shop,” Kyoto was usually talked about in the context of culture and nature, as it was often paired with the terms “sakura,” “scenery,” and “temple.”
Instagram users have also talked about more underrated locations in Japan on the platform. For instance, beach lovers can take a trip to Okinawa to see its white sand beaches and coral reefs. If you prefer the cold, Niseko in Hokkaido is a winter wonderland, and it contains a variety of ski resorts with bunny hills and black diamonds. (READ: Don’t want ‘overtourism’ in Japan? Try Hokkaido)
With 7 in 10 Filipinos looking forward to traveling abroad in the next year, enthusiasm for travel shows no signs of slowing down. Singapore, China, and Japan are all great destinations with a variety of activities for those looking to satisfy their quench for adventure. – with reports from Dylan Salcedo and Gaby Baizas/Rappler.com
Katrina Bernice Tan is a Rappler intern.
This study was made in collaboration with TheNerve, a Manila-based consultancy that specializes in analyzing data to bring forth powerful insights and narratives. Believing that data can deliver real-world impact, the company enables its partners across a wide range of industries to cut through the clutter and extract value and meaning from various datasets. The insights guide partners’ business decisions and help them engage with their communities better. Composed of a team of data scientists, business strategists, award-winning storytellers, and designers, the company is on a mission to transform data science into data relevance.