THE Philippines has long established a harmony with several neighboring nations and vice versa. The continuous exchange of cultures hints of greater advantages ahead especially to the tourism sector as more of these countries are enjoying healthy relationships with each other.

With an aim to cultivate mutual understanding between nations, Tourism Malaysia, led by director general Dato’ Mirza Bin Mohammad Taiyab launched a special campaign to the Philippines last June 10 at the Sampaguita Grand Ballroom of the Cebu City Marriott Hotel. The initiative is in line with this year being the year of festivals. The Malaysian delegation, whose purpose was to converse with local tourism industry players, includes the state tourism board members, product owners, hoteliers and tour operators.

Carrying out a theme of endless celebrations, the initiative is dubbed “Be Friends Forever” (BFF), a catch phrase believed to effectively mirror the bond while traveling with important people. With this, Tourism Malaysia is positioning itself as a best friend to a certain extent. Taiyab expressed that they are considering the Philippines and the future generations of Filipinos who have and will be traveling to Malaysia as the latter’s best friends forever.

Taiyab shared that the Philippines is an essential path for Malaysia’s tourism. Starting out as a small market, the Philippines rose to being the seventh largest source of tourism for Malaysia, pouring out more than 600,000 visits last year, an 11 percent growth versus the year before. Taiyab is confident that the figures will work its way to the top five in five years.

There are 84 direct flights from the Philippines to Malaysia; seven are from Cebu which include Malaysian Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Considering the numbers, Taiyab is confident of a growing connectivity between the two countries.

According to Taiyab, Malaysia is targeting 29.4 million tourist arrivals for 2015 leading to the ultimate goal of 36 million come 2020. The quoted goal is part of the Malaysian government’s strategy to create value innovation through public-private partnership.

“To this end, I would like to invite all of you to work with each other, develop new tourism products and packages that will highlight our cultures, and promote it as a tourist attraction to the rest of the world,” Taiyab said in calling for collaboration.

In visiting Malaysia, Taiyab assured that there’s always something new all the time from leisure to business with Malaysia being a golfing and shopping destination for one. And since the campaign is all about having a good time while traveling around Malaysia, travelers are encouraged to upload their favorite vacation photos on Facebook and Instagram using the official hashtag #mybffxoxo which qualifies them for special monthly prizes from Tourism Malaysia. A grand prize for the promotion is also at stake—a three-day and two-night stay in Malaysia for two.