Chinese tourists swarm Legazpi as Ibalong Festival takes off

By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Aug. 12 (PNA) – A throng of Chinese tourists arrived at the airport here Monday afternoon via a chartered Cebu Pacific flight that flew them in directly from Xiamen City of Fujian province in China as the city celebrates this month the Ibalong Festival.

They were welcomed to the city by Mayor Noel Rosal, Department of Tourism Bicol Regional Director Maria Ong-Ravanilla and Elizalde Co, owner of the Misibis Bay Resort in the nearby Sto. Domingo town where all of them will be billeted during their four days and three nights stay.

Misibis Bay is a posh resort hotel considered as a private tropical hideaway built on a pristine stretch of beach serving as a luxury island playground along Cagraray Island where Albay’s hospitality abounds.

This group, composed of 154 individuals, represents the first batch of a series of arrivals arranged by Misibis Bay management and the city government as part of the direct international flight tourism program, which opened early this year the Legazpi airport as the country’s newest gateway.

Interviewed by local newsmen at the airport while waiting for the arrival, Rosal said this series of chartered flights from Xiamen will go on until October this year with four flights a week but “we are working on an arrangement with Cebu Pacific and the China International Travel Service to extend it up to the end of this year.”

The coming of the initial batches is timed with the city’s holding this month of Ibalong Festival whose events will be an added entertainment to the Chinese tourists who are very much attracted to Mt. Mayon and going around lava fronts around its foot on board all-terrain vehicles, Rosal said.

“During their stay, these Chinese tourists will enjoy the overflowing of celebrations in this prime tourist destination known in the whole travel industry world as the City of Fun and Adventure,” he said.

Ibalong Festival is a yearly non-religious fiesta here depicting Bicol’s early beginnings based on the Ibalong Epic written by the late Prof. Merito Espinas that tells of mythical super heroes, villains, monsters and wild animals in the ancient times.

This is the longest running tourism promotion-related festival in the Bicol Region that expresses warmth and goodwill to all people and encourages visitors and tourists to celebrate with the Legazpeños.

“And hopefully, next year and onward, we would be able to arrange a year-round direct flights program with the Legazpi Domestic Airport as the gateway while we are awaiting for the completion of the Southern Luzon International Airport now ongoing construction in the nearby Daraga town,” Rosal added.

This new airport, which has been placed by the Department of Transportation and Communications as a priority project intended to boost Bicol’s booming tourism industry, is scheduled to be completed and put into operations before the end of the term of President Benigno S. Aquino III in 2016.

The opening of the Legazpi Airport as gateway for direct international flights came last January with the coming in of the maiden chartered flight of Philippine Airlines with 156 Chinese tourists on board from Xiamen.

Xiamen and the surrounding southern Fujian countryside are the ancestral home to large communities of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia.

The city is one of the four original Special Economic Zones opened to foreign investment and trade when China began economic reforms in the early 1980s.

The direct flight program was first arranged with local and China-based travel agencies as an undertaking in line with the Aquino administration’s policy to achieve inclusive growth through tourism that will have direct impact on the community.

Rosal said having Legazpi as the newest direct destination for the Chinese travel market means getting them into a yearly cycle wherein they will be coming via chartered flights in a frequency of at least twice a week.

Each of these tourists spends between USD 500 and USD 1,000 a day and with the coming of 230 weekly would mean as much as USD 230,000 weekly tourism receipts for the city and some parts of Albay where they would be buying souvenir items and food, among other expenditures, he said.

Tourism will definitely take a crucial role in the city, the province of Albay, the Bicol Region and the country’s pursuit for inclusive and horizontal growth that will benefit not only big investors such as hotel operators but also the people in the countryside, where most of the tourist destinations are located, by providing more opportunities for employment and business ventures, the city mayor said.

“The opening of the city as gateway for direct international flights takes advantage of the foreign market trend showing that international tourists do not tend to stick to one local destination as they follow a cycle leading them from one place to another,” he said.

Parallel with these developments, what the city government is doing is to improve its capacity to accommodate more tourists, taking into consideration that the city is also fast emerging as one of the country’s convention capitals.

“We are now hosting an average of 20 big conventions and similar occasions yearly, bringing in to the city around 60,000 visitors each year. So far, we only have 2,009 hotel rooms that can accommodate in one occasion some 5,000 people,” Rosal said.

More accommodation facilities are needed, that is why the city government has been encouraging and attracting more investors to venture into this endeavor and the response is very encouraging, he added. (PNA)