THE Department of Tourism (DOT) in Western Visayas remained optimistic in hitting the tourist arrivals target of 6.1 million this year amid concerns hounding Boracay Island in Aklan, the region’s top tourist destination.
DOT-Western Visayas director Helen Catalbas, at the sidelines of tourism awareness conference at L’ Fisher Hotel in Bacolod City Tuesday, February 20, said they are not stopping the promotion and marketing of Boracay while the “cleansing” process continues.
President Rodrigo Duterte had warned to close the island-resort if its environmental problems are not resolved in six months.
Catalbas said they are confident that the cleansing period set by the President is achievable, most probably within two to four months.
There is still a need to further strengthen tourism campaigns of other provinces in the region, including Negros Occidental, she added.
“While we are into cleansing and monitoring tourist arrival movement, we are not stopping our promotion efforts,” Catalbas said, adding that “there is no let up in marketing Boracay and other tourist destinations in Western Visayas.”
Partial reports of DOT-Western Visayas showed tourist arrivals in Western Visayas last year was about 5.5 million, higher than 5.1 million in 2016. With this figure, the 2017 target of 5.5 million was already achieved.
The figure comprises only about 95 percent of last year’s total tourist arrival since other provinces have yet to submit their final reports.
No travel cancellations
Since the issue on the possible closure of Boracay blew up earlier this month, the DOT-Western Visayas has not yet monitored a decrease in the number of tourists coming to the island.
Catalbas said they are very keen on monitoring if there are cancellations but “we are into the second week and cancellations are not yet evident at this time.”
The average guest arrivals in Boracay still range from 4,500 to 5,000 per day, she added.
In 2016, Aklan ranked first with highest number of tourists catered, at 1.9 million. Negros Occidental, including Bacolod City, was second at about 1.6 million.
Catalbas said if ever there would be a slight decline in the number of tourists in Boracay, it would be overtaken by the strengths of the cities in provinces of Negros Occidental and Iloilo as well as Antique.
This means that all the other destinations are getting stronger, she said.
Catalbas said the agency’s purpose in marketing other provinces is to narrow the gap between Boracay, which is so high, and other destinations in the region.
“Negros Occidental and Bacolod City can really contribute a lot in keeping the region’s tourist arrivals,” the DOT-6 official said, adding that “we are really pushing for further development of other provinces while maintaining Boracay.”
As part of the measures to boost tourism industry of Western Visayas, the DOT recognizes the need to host more events in the region.
Catalbas said they will strengthen already-established festivals to invite more tourists and sustain the tourist arrivals, adding that the region will campaign for more investments on accommodation and food sector development.
“We are also banking on additional flights and boat trips to bring in more tourists to Bacolod and other Negros Occidental cities and municipalities,” she added.
Catalbas said that sports tourism is another asset of Western Visayas.
The region is currently hosting two major sporting events, including the National State Colleges and Universities Athletic Association Meet and Western Visayas Regional Athletic Association Meet in Antique and Iloilo, respectively.
With the region's facilities, attractions and venues, "I am sure Western Visayas is a strong destination for sports tourism," Catalbas said.
Through the DOT's Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (Mice), the agency will also be very active in going out and bidding for all kinds of events, she added.
Impact to employment
The possible slump in the tourism industry of Boracay since tourists might shift to other destinations if issues remain unsolved is feared to have a negative impact to employment.
The DOT official said most of the workers at the island are from other places like Negros, Cebu, Manila and other provinces in Luzon.
Catalbas said they will start coordinating with local government units (LGUs) on how many workers they can absorb in case establishments in Boracay will lay off employees due to low tourists arrivals.
“Though there are no cancellations of trips now, we have to be proactive. We will consult our LGUs ahead to allay possible adverse impact of these challenges on employment,” she added.
Published in the SunStar Bacolod newspaper on February 21, 2018.
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