Discover Philippine wonders through locals’ eyes

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Through the Department of Tourism’s Bring Home A Friend campaign, Filipino citizens and expats can sign up to be a sponsor and invite foreign passport or dual citizenship holders to plan a trip to the Philippines. Photo by AN ESTRADA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The best part of traveling is when you’re able to discover your own personal city within that city, with places not typically seen in guidebooks that feel like they were just waiting to be found by you. It may be an art gallery hidden inside a backpacker hostel, or a family-operated eatery with the heartiest affordable meals. Either way, it’s the kind of find that makes you rethink the country you’ve visited and realize that there’s so much more to it than travel brochures make it out to be.  

As a tourist spot, the Philippines is pretty straightforward: You’ve got natural wonders, heritage sites, and beaches with every kind of sand you can imagine. The locals are just as sunny as the weather. And the commercials don’t lie — we’ve got a way of doing everyday things that’s just more fun.

Still, we have a lot more to offer, and it’s not just in Metro Manila or Boracay. There’s often talk of the “real Philippines,” but it’s a little bit harder to define because it means differently to every person. One thing echoes all the same: “Let me show you.”

The chance to show tourists or long-absent relatives from abroad around is already rewarding in itself, but the Department of Tourism (DOT) recently launched a referral incentive program that’s the perfect excuse for foreigners to finally pay us a visit.

E-mail the international pen pals you’ve grown close to online over the years and arrange a once-in-a-lifetime meetup. Send a postcard to your tita and tell her you want the thousands of kilometers in distance between you to be zero. With the Bring Home A Friend campaign, Filipino citizens and expats can sign up to be a sponsor and invite foreign passport or dual citizenship holders to plan a trip to the Philippines — and both sponsors and invitees stand a chance to receive some wonderful tokens of appreciation from the DOT.

There’s really no better way to see the Philippines from different points of view — especially with help from a local, or from an expat who's discovered the country for themselves. Invitees get to experience good, old-fashioned Filipino hospitality, and also a whole lot of insight.

After sponsors have signed up online or via designated Bring Home A Friend booths at selected Philippine international airports, both they and their respective invitees must present the necessary documents and proofs of travel to secure their raffle entries. They are entitled to a single entry if the invitee flies in from Asia, two if the invitee is from Australia or the Middle East, and three if the invitee has arrived all the way from Africa, Europe, or the Americas. Sponsors are encouraged to extend as many invitations as possible for more entries, which will be drawn at random at the end of the campaign.

Prizes for sponsors include a condominium unit from Megaworld Corporation, a Toyota Vios, and a ₱200,000 gift certificate from Duty Free Philippines. Invitees, on the other hand, stand a chance to win pairs of round trip international tickets (as high as business class) trips to Palawan, Cebu, or Davao, and five-day stays at El Nido Hotel and Resort or Pearl Farm Beach Resort.

Let our tourists become vagabonds and uncover the likes of Cebu’s burgeoning art scene and storied paths on foot. Maybe they’d prefer Baguio’s perpetually cool climate, rare ukay-ukay finds, and creative parks that combine culture and nature. Or perhaps they’re best suited for Pampanga, the country’s culinary capital, with its unmatched flavors that put the pot in melting pot.

Whichever way one decides to go, there’s no shortage of rich histories, warm communities, and bucket-list activities for both adventure seekers and soul searchers right here. The best incentive, really, is putting yourself out there and hunting for the hidden spots that make the city your own.

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The Bring Home A Friend Campaign runs until April 15, 2018. For more information, visit the Department of Tourism’s Bring Home A Friend website.