By Danny O. Calleja
LEGAZPI CITY, June 29 (PNA) — With this city on the lead as Bicol’s most visited tourism destination, the Department of Tourism (DOT) regional office here has set the region’s three-year tourist arrivals goal at five million.
“Hitting this target would make Bicol a truly livable region, where the reaping of the benefits from the local tourism industry leaves not any of the region’s six provinces, seven cities and 105 municipalities,” Maria Ong-Ravanilla, DOT regional director, said over the weekend.
Ravanilla, who also chairs the Bicol Regional Tourism Council (BRTC), said the five-million target was arrived at following the recent formation of the “3Cs,” the cluster of three Bicol provinces — Catanduanes, Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur — into a local tourism industry development alliance.
These provinces form the second cluster of Tourism Development Area (TDA) in the region as identified in the 2011-2016 National Tourism Development Plan of the DOT.
The first cluster formed last year by the BRTC in collaboration with the Bicol Regional Development Council and the National Economic Development Authority regional office is the Albay-Masbate-Sorsogon Tourism Alliance (AlMaSorTA).
The formation of the “3Cs” was formalized through a covenant entered into among the three provinces represented by Governors Araceli Wong of Catanduanes, Edgardo Tallado of Camarines Norte and Miguel Villafuerte of Camarines Sur.
The covenant provides for the adoption of an inter-provincial tourism alliance strategy for local development with tourism as the main driver for economic growth and social progress, with the aim of uplifting the living conditions in the region and the three provinces by tapping their respective natural tourism resources, Ravanilla explained.
There are two sub-TDAs under this new cluster — the Caramoan-Catanduanes Tourism Link covering the tourism town of Caramoan, Camarines Sur and the entire Catanduanes area; and the Camarines Tourism Circuit to cover the rest of Camarines Sur and the whole of Camarines Norte, according to Ravanilla.
AlMaSorTA, which was conceptualized as the tourism road map for Bicol, is designed to achieve development not only in the mainland provinces of Albay and Sorsogon but also in the island of Masbate.
It debuted its global exposure at the 2013 Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB)-Berlin as part of its integrated and comprehensive promotion strategy to market the potentials of the regional tourism industry, eyeing around 700,000 foreign tourist arrivals in the area annually within four years.
By featuring AlMaSor, which was tagged as the “Soul of the South” of Philippine tourism industry, ITB, the world’s leading yearly travel trade held in Berlin, Germany on March 6-10 last year, notably helped increase arrivals of European visitors here and other parts of the cluster.
The cluster features Albay with its Mayon Volcano and the Cagsawa Ruins among the other tourism marvels of the province; Sorsogon offers its butanding (whale shark) interactions; while Masbate has its unspoiled world-class beaches.
Tour packages to these inviting destinations are offered to tourists, with this city taking the lead in view of its ethno-cultural logic and aggressive urban-rural development — making it known as the “City of Fun and Adventure” to the travel industry world.
Asked how he sees the goal, City Mayor Noel Rosal replied to PNA Sunday that on the part of the city, “I see no problem, given the fact that last year alone, we already received over half a million tourists for a whopping increase of 32.27 percent from the previous year’s list.”
As recorded by the DOT regional office, Rosal said the total arrivals of both domestic and foreign tourists in the city for the whole year of 2013 reached 579, 470, which was higher by 141,370 over the 2012’s 438,100 figure.
“When we hit the half million mark last year, we raised our goal to one million by 2016 as we relentlessly pursue a tourism master plan featuring a massive promotion campaign that highlights the city’s irresistible tourism products — ranging from its natural wonders to world-class facilities,” he said.
Tourists now visit Legazpi not only for the breathtaking view of Mt. Mayon, one of the world’s most active volcanoes made famous by its magically-configured perfect cone form, but also for its sparkling metropolis loaded with heavy tourism-related activities and exciting places to relax, play and enjoy a healthful living, Rosal said.
The city is also recognized now as a “convention capital,” owing to its attractiveness as venue of big formal gatherings such as international conventions, conferences, meetings and reunions.
Indeed, from nothing special but Mt. Mayon, “ours is a world-class city now that plays host not only to thousands of tourists and visitors but also to an influx of investments and massive urban development that continuously attract travelers,” Rosal added.
Ravanilla said the five-million goal is divided equally between the two TDA clusters with each enjoined to work on having not less than 800,000 arrivals yearly starting this year up to 2016.
She said the BRTC technical working group has already completed validation of tourism sites in both clusters, with a series of consultations that gathered inputs from stakeholders for proposed projects.
While BRTC is satisfied with the results of the validation, Ravanilla said, the pace of tourism development in Bicol will all depend on how fast local governments and their technical working groups will work.
For Catanduanes for example, she said that from the measly 6,415 actual tourist arrivals in 2013, the target of the island province — known for its lush vegetation serving as an ecotourism wonder and surfing sites most visited by foreign water sports enthusiasts, the three-year target is set at a total of 25,000 as its contribution to the cluster’s goal.(PNA)