By Danny O. Calleja
LEGAZPI CITY, March 12 (PNA) – It’s working and Catanduanes, Bicol’s island province by the Pacific, has started proving its worth as among the region’s potential tourist destinations.
What is working, according to Department of Tourism (DOT) Regional Director Maria Ong-Ravanilla, are the national and local government programs that recognize the island as a rapidly-developing province which President Aquino has included in his administration’s countryside development agenda as a tourism growth area.
Ravanilla on Thursday here said that Catanduanes last year achieved a rate of 15.89 percent in tourist arrival growth compared to its achievement in the previous year.
“It is very impressive that the island province called the Land of the Howling Wind, being the first landmass to be kissed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean, exposing it to most typhoons crossing the country, received last year a total of 151,550 foreign and domestic tourist which shows a significant growth from its 130,766 arrivals in 2013,” Ravanilla said.
She based her figures on a report recently received from Catanduanes provincial tourism officer Carmel Garcia who noted that most of the foreigners who arrived last year were Americans, Russians, Canadians, Japanese and Chinese.
In her report, Garcia said, 52,847 or 34.9 percent of these last year’s arrivals came during the months of February, April and May — with January and March posting the lesser numbers of 5,620 and 8,409, respectively, and moderate numbers came during the rest of the year.
The provincial tourism officer also reported that most of these tourists availed of the accommodation services of the five local lodging establishments — Rakdell Inn, Twin Rock Beach Resort, Midtown Inn, Puraran Surf Resort at Pacific Surfers, all the municipalities of Virac, the provincial capital and Baras, the province’s surfing capital.
Garcia attributed this local tourism industry gains to the unrelenting support that the national government is providing to the vigorous promotion and site development that the provincial and municipal governments are initiating all year round.
“The provincial government headed by Governor Araceli Wong has been working closely with all the mayors of the 11 towns of the province in the development of the local tourism industry, thus, this achievement,” she stressed.
Added to this is the all-out support that the Aquino administration is extending under its countryside development program geared towards the assurance that not one in the country is left behind as it advances to inclusive development, she said.
Among these supports is the implementation of the Catanduanes Circumferential Road Improvement Project (CCRIP) worth Php2.6-billion project now ongoing works managed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in a joint venture with Nippon Engineering Consultants Co. Ltd. and Egis International, with Engineers International (KEI) as the lead firm.
It is funded under the Road Upgrading and Preservation Project (RUPP) being undertaken by the Philippine government with financial assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The CCRIP covers a 290-kilometer primary and secondary road network traversing the entire island that boasts of a US-million-a-year abaca industry.
Ravanilla said her agency realizes the potentials of the island as a world-class ecotourism destination reason why it has been included in the formation last year of the “Triple C” cluster, a local tourism industry development alliance called “Gems of the Pacific” for its geographical location which is along the rim of the Pacific Ocean.
The cluster involves the provinces of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes comprising a tourism development area (TDA) as identified in the 2011-2016 National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) of the DOT.
Ravanilla said two sub-TDAs form this cluster–the Caramoan-Catanduanes Tourism Link (CCTL) covering the tourism town of Caramoan, Camarines Sur and the entire Catanduanes area; and the Camarines Tourism Circuit (CTC) covering the rest of Camarines Sur and the whole of Camarines Norte.
For the CCTL, Caramoan, which lies at the northeastern tip of Camarines Sur and separated by Maqueda Channel from Catanduanes, covers the Caramoan Peninsula where a group of exotic islets serving as a major ecotourism destination sits.
Catanduanes, on the other hand, is a promising travel destination owing to its ecotourism wonders, dive sites and sea surfing venues.
For the CTC, Camarines Sur has been a long-time tourist destination with its Camarines Water sports Complex and Peñafrancia Festival of Naga City while Camarines Norte is famous for its Bagasbas Beach and Calaguas Islands known for its pristine beaches of a long stretch of powdery white sand.
“Catanduanes, along with every part of Bicol, is practically a tourist attraction — that is why all its six provinces are included in the Bicol tourism development cluster defined by the NTDP. What we do under this clustering is putting in place strategic directions and programs that make their tourism products more competitive,” Ravanilla said.
This is being done through the improvement of market access, connectivity, destination infrastructure; and enhancement of tourism institutional, governance and industry manpower capabilities, she said.
Occupied by these undertakings is a technical working group (TWG) composed of the regional offices for Bicol of the DOT as lead agency and National Economic Development Authority, Department of Budget and Management, Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior and Local Government as among the members.
Other members are the DPWH, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Social Welfare and Development and Philippine National Police.
These agencies form the panel of permanent members of the TWG while governors Wong, Luis Miguel Villafuerte and Edgardo Tallado of Catanduanes, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte and Catanduanes, respectively, as well the mayors of Naga and Iriga cities and all the 56 municipalities covered by the three provinces are current members, according to Ravanilla.
The union of the Triple C, she said, was formalized in May last year through the signing of a memorandum of agreement by the three governors that ensures the commitment of each province to the alliance in addressing the obstacles challenging the NTDP.
These obstacles include the noncompetitive tourist destinations and products, limited flights and capacity of domestic transportation, poor infrastructure, limited market access and weak public sector tourism governance and human resources development policies and practices, Ravanilla said.
Apart from working with local government units in developing their areas and setting up tourist facilities, Triple C also works hand in hand with the private sector to ask them to pour more investments, she added. (PNA)