Cebu needs to be more aggressive, innovative

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Monday, December 31, 2012

Jay Aldeguer

THE author is the chairman of The Islands Group, the company behind popular brands like Islands Souvenirs, Island Banca Cruises and Islands Stay Hotels. He was named one of the country’s Ten Outstanding Young Men for Business and Entrepreneurship and awarded Entrepreneur of the Year for Tourism by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

TOURISM continues to gain momentum as one of the country’s most promising industries.


All indicators point to a “bright” future for Philippine Tourism as we see an unprecedented influx of investment by the country’s top corporations and top businessmen and taipans in the key sectors of tourism such as the airline, entertainment and gaming industries, as well as accommodation and hospitality.

Ramon Ang’s entry into PAL, which has spurred an aggressive fleet expansion to counter Cebu Pacific’s dynamic rise in the airline sector, Tiger Air’s acquisition of Seaair, Enrique Razon’s, John Gokongwei’s and Andrew Tan’s entry into the lucrative gaming sector and SM’s and Ayala’s aggressive mall and hotel expansion are some of the obvious indicators that we are preparing for “bigger” things to come.

Cebu, being in the forefront of tourism in the country sector stands to benefit tremendously from all these developments. The year 2012 has seen a semblance of this; such as the increased frequency of domestic flights and the addition of new international routes have stimulated more travel to and from Cebu. New hotels and Mixed use commercial developments continue to pour in. These are some of the drivers that point to Cebu’s robust growth in the tourism sector.

Cebu’s top spot threatened?

Cebu, I believe, will enjoy the same momentum in the next three years but not without more competition from other destinations, especially in the leisure market. Boracay, for instance, will reinforce its already strong appeal once the new Caticlan airport opens. Destinations like Bohol and Palawan are aggressively being marketed as leisure destinations with several new attractions and accommodations added to their portfolio.

Even Cebu-based hotel operators Blue Water, Sheridan and BE Resorts as well as our own Islands Stay Hotels are setting up shop in these locations-a clear indication that these destinations are fast gaining a strong following.

If Cebu intends to protect this lucrative market, Cebu will need to reassess how we want to position ourselves when targeting the leisure travelers. Cebu is beginning to lose its lure as the “island in the Pacific.” Cebu is no longer that quaint small tropical island it was in the 80’s; it has become a metropolis with tall buildings, traffic congestion and rapid migration.

While Cebu has evolved dramatically over the past decade, I still believe that Cebu’s attractions, both natural and man-made, are still hard to beat. We, however, need to be more aggressive and innovative in the way we package and promote them. As they say, “Even if we’re on the right track, but if you just sit there, you’ll get run over.”

Cebu needs to evolve or reinvent itself; the whale shark phenomenon, the mountainside of Cebu through the trans central highway and even the “canonization” of Pedro Calungsod, are new features that Cebu should capitalize on.

The addition of more international airports around the Philippines especially in places like Kalibo, Caticlan, Puerto Princessa and Iloilo, all in the Visayas region will have or continue to have direct international flights. While this is good for Philippine tourism in general, Cebu should be a bit more vigilant if it wants to keep the top spot.

The MICE and business market on the other hand, will continue to improve. Cebu does not have too many competitors in this segment.

Competition is always healthy and exciting. It inspires us to do better and do away with the “status quo”. Cebu has always risen above competition and should continue to do so as the travel sector becomes more exciting and overcrowded.

The one most critical part of Cebu tourism that needs immediate attention is its
infrastructure related issues such as the airport expansion, sea ports, road network, traffic and flood management.

Cebu’s private sector and government should treat this issue with utmost urgency.

Otherwise, this will undoubtedly hamper Cebu’s full potential.

Opportunities abound

Tourism in Cebu is booming and everyone wants a “piece of the pie.” While tourism in Cebu has been a dominant sector for a couple decades now, it is only in the recent years where it has drawn interest from new stakeholders, especially among local companies and businessmen. Many businessmen that have made their fortunes in manufacturing and export or other industries are now taking an interest in tourism.

There has been an unprecedented growth in new hotels and tourism related establishments such as restaurants, spas, bars and many others. Even the land transport sector has seen several new players. Cebu’s lechon industry, for instance, has seen new interest and new players. Innovation of the product has spurred renewed fervor and has become a main draw to Cebu.

Even the different LGUs in the island have likewise seen the opportunities brought about by tourism and have developed their own “attractions.”

All these efforts will help develop Cebu’s tourism landscape. Tourism is one industry whose benefits and rewards are seen to have trickled down to the “masses” and even to marginalized sectors, especially in far-flung areas. Because of the reach of tourism, we can expect to see new forms of livelihood to surface such as the case of the town of Boljoon where the whale shark attraction has become one of the main sources of livelihood for its people. The same goes for the islands of Camotes, Bantayan and Malapascua.

The year 2013 looks promising for Cebu tourism but we need to make adjustments along the way. The stakeholders will need to re examine our direction and realign our goals if we want to continue to take the lead not only in the Philippines but in the region.

Asia is the fastest growing destination and there is interest in many nearby destinations outside the Philippines that is why we have to be strategic and purposeful in our efforts. I still think we have all the ingredients to be one the premiere destinations in Asia.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 01, 2013.


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