|Han Kook Nam
MANILA, Philippines – Han Kook Nam, a businessman from South Korea, arrived in Manila on Thursday to spend the rest of the holidays with his wife and children, who have settled here for their studies.
He wasn't expecting a warm welcome. But shortly after going through the immigration counter at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2, a group of people hung a garland around his neck, and a banner welcoming him as the 1,000,000th Korean visitor to the Philippines this year was unfurled.
Han, still feeling tired from his flight, looked pleasantly surprised as the terminal erupted in cheers while a band played native Filipino music.
"Maayong hapon (Good afternoon!)," Han said in Bisaya during a press conference.
"Thank you for welcoming each Korean visiting the Philippines," he later told reporters.
As the 1 millionth Korean visitor to the country in 2012, Han was given free accommodation at Shangri-La hotels in Manila and Cebu, a business class plane ticket to Seoul from Philippine Airlines, and a tour package from the Department of Tourism (DOT).
The DOT considers Han's arrival a milestone for the Philippines' tourism industry. South Korea has been the largest source of tourists for the Philippines in recent years, said Tourism Undersecretary Daniel Corpuz.
In 2011, Koreans topped the list of tourists in the Philippines, followed by the Japanese and Americans.
Tourism Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon Jr. said the number of Korean tourists in the country reached about 922,000 from January to November, and was forecast to hit a million before the year ends.
DOT officials attribute the surge in tourists to the new tourism campaign, "It's More Fun in the Philippines."
Bengzon expects the number of tourists, especially from South Korea, to increase further.
"We're very confident that we will hit the 2 million mark by the year 2016," he said. "We continue to improve air access into the country. Capacities are expanding as we get more hotel and resort investments. And of course, we have stepped up our marketing and promotions in Korea as well as other markets."
Han has been to the Philippines many times in the past, and even studied English here. While maintaining his business in Seoul, he often comes back to the Philippines to visit his family and take a vacation.
Han considers the Philippines his second country. What particularly makes him enjoy his stay here, he said, are the people.
"People are smiling all the time here. You have good mood. They don't hurry. They know how to enjoy their life," he said.