“The main idea was to encourage people to go out of their comfort zone and let go of all expectations.”
That – in a sentence – was the concept behind Experience Philippines, which, when it was started on February 14, 2013, was initially known as “Tara, Let’s Go Asia”. It was rebranded after the friends (from abroad) of the founder, Giancarlo Gallegos, “always mistook ‘Tara’ as a girl.” But the idea behind it remained the same.
“We pioneered the travel concept called the ‘random road trip’, where we keep the destination a secret and the activities a surprise. We wanted people to discover off-the-beaten-track destinations and make you fall in love with the Philippines,” Gallegos said. “In this process, you begin to discover something about yourself. You start to realize that you are capable of something more, that you can take risks.”
Aside from Gallegos, Experience Philippines was also co-conceptualized by Patrick Lui, with both “wanting to create a legacy where you don’t just travel but also create a deep connection with the people with you, where people can just be themselves, and where they can make a difference in the local community.”
REACHING THE RAINBOW MARKET
More recently, Experience Philippines started serving the rainbow community.
“Although the Philippines is tolerant of the LGBT community, it still has a long way to go,” Gallegos said. “Moreso if you look at the LGBT travel landscape, (and) most you will find online are gay-friendly bars, hotels, et cetera. There is no travel company that publicly espouses, supports or organizes gay-friendly travels. The most you will ever hear are private individuals organizing them.”
And so “we started organizing these trips because of our personal experiences with our road trippers who are part of the LGBT community. Some are tragic stories of being ostracized by their parents after discovering their gender identity/sexual orientation. There are some who are scared to be out because of what their family and friends will say because of the positions they hold in their respective companies.”
Experience Philippines, therefore, developed “Random OUTings”, with a tagline: “Be you with us.”
“We did not focus on the LGBT community because we wanted to diversify. We focused on them because we wanted to create a safe travel haven for those who want to be accepted and be loved for who they are. We created a community where they can ask questions and not be afraid of being judged. It is an avenue where they can show be themselves without prejudice and discriminations,” Gallegos said. “If Experience Philippines is the only place they can show their selves, then so be it. We welcome it. We embrace it.”
OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONES
No matter the SOGIE of the market it targets, the idea behind Experience Philippines stays the same.
In the Philippines, “many Filipinos always travel to only the popular tourist spots,” Gallegos said, adding that this is “a shame since the Philippines has so much more to offer.”
And so – to take people out of their comfort zones – making them try something new and different became a must-do.
“By not knowing where they were going, what they’d be doing, or who they’d be going with, we could get people to discover the unknown places around the Philippines, experience different kinds of transport, food, culture and traditions, and local activities, and form new bonds of friendships that could last a lifetime,” Gallegos said.
RAINBOW ON THE ROAD
Random OUTings is one of the most popular road trips organized by Experience Philippines, according to Gallegos, who hopes for this to be “a small step to creating a big impact in the LGBT landscape in the Philippines.”
Currently, “we almost have 100 members in our Random OUTings community.”, though – to respect their privacy – “we do not share photos or names in our social media. We created a closed Facebook group exclusively for the Random OUTing community where they can discuss, exchanges ideas, come out with travel plans, go out for dinners and other activities.”
It wasn’t always easy organizing Random OUTings.
“When we started to organize the Random OUTings road trips, we heard from some well-intentioned individuals that these road trips may just turn out as venues for hook-ups because gay people are promiscuous,” Gallegos said. “Personally, when I heard this, I felt angry because it is simply a double standard. Don’t straight people hook up as well?” And so, “all the more that this encouraged me to pursue this project and to prove people wrong that they are like everyone else who are looking for love, companionship, friendship, et cetera. And I have been very happy that I started this project then.”
Past trips included exploring the small town of Bani in Pangasinan, some of the islands of Mindoro, and remote destinations of Quezon and Batangas.
“We chose these destinations because Experience Philippines is also a social advocacy. As much as we can, we try to help out local communities but bringing the business there. And this experience is much deeper since you help connect the participants to the local communities,” Gallegos said.
CARVING A MARKET
Gallegos said that “aside from coming out with one of the craziest ideas you can do in the Philippines, one of (our) edges is being customer-centric. We find great satisfaction in dealing with our road trippers in a personal way. In fact, I always remind our team that the real work of Experience Philippines happens AFTER our road trips. It is how we engage and continue to build a travel community. It makes the trying out new ideas easier as well since you have early adaptors. And if you have a strong community, scaling is a lot easier.”
The road trip fee varies, but it is usually around P5,500 for a weekend trip. This is all-inclusive. Travelers “just need to bring themselves, their clothes and their sense of humor to the trip,” Gallegos said.
“Expect not to go to touristy destinations; you can easily go there on your own. Expect different kinds of people. Expect rough roads and cold showers. But most of all, expect majestic sunsets, local food, starlit skies, neverending laughter, Spice Girls, Britney and Arianna as your background music,” Gallegos said. “What frame of mind to have if joining? Let go of expectations. Just learn how to be in the moment, Be there to connect to people, to places, to communities. Experience Philippines will take care of the rest.”