THE Department of Tourism–Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (DOT-Armm) recorded around 70,000 tourists who visited Tawi-Tawi for the first seven months of 2017, surpassing a year-round tourist arrival data in 2016, at only 60,000 tourists.
DOT-Armm Regional Secretary Ayesha Vanessa Hajar Dilangalen said in an interview last Wednesday, September 27, in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, that the province is gaining tourism momentum under this administration.
“From January to July 2017, we asked data from the hotels, airport and seaport operators, and we recorded over 70,000 tourists who visited Tawi-Tawi. The figure is higher as compared to 2016 data at 60,000,” she said, adding that the 1 million-visitor data, which was reported early this year, was announced incorrectly.
Dilangalen emphasized that one of DOT-Armm’s focused areas for development is Tawi-Tawi.
“We already had an assessment with all the provinces in Armm and we came up with the tourism roadmap, there will be massive tourism promotions especially in Tawi-Tawi since it appears to be the one that has more tourism potentials among all the provinces," she said.
Of the figure, five percent are from foreign tourists mostly from Malaysia due to the annual visit of Muslims to Sheik Karim al Makdum Mosque, the first and oldest mosque in the Philippines build in 1380.
For domestic tourists, Dilangalen said, most are from Luzon, who are lured by the beautiful and virgin beaches of the province.
Some of the province’s tourist attractions are the Sheik Karim al Makdum Mosque in Simunul, Turtle Island, Panampangan Island, Sitangkai Island, and Bud Bongao Peak, among others.
Bongao town mayor Jimuel Shia Que said they are eyeing, for now, local tourists.
Tawi-Tawi Governor Rashidin Matba said that a number of local investors engaged in hotel operations showed interest in investing in Tawi-Tawi.
These investments, though not yet fully committed, are mostly to be established in the islands and mainland of the province.
But, the governor emphasized that economic and environmental balance will be observed in the area for sustainability purposes.
Dilangalen also said that though development projects are needed in the area, careful screening and limitations will be implemented to keep the province’s natural beauty.
“We also require all the local government units of Tawi-Tawi to come up with a municipal tourism plan to avoid congestion of tourists and implement policies to make it sustainable,” she said.
Matba siad that to connect island municipalities of the province, he asked President Rodrigo Duterte to fund bridges construction in the province, to which the President positively responded.
We asked three bridges to connect municipalities of Bongao, Languyan and Tandubas. Right now, we are just waiting for the start of construction but the President already committed for this project,” he said.
The project, he said, is pegged at P2.3 billion.
“With this enhanced connectivity, economic activities will thrive, not only in agriculture, it will also boost trade and tourism,” Matba added.
Tawi-Tawi is one of the focused areas for the DOT’s Mindanao Joint Planning and Programming for Tourism Development and Mindanao Development Authority’s Mindanao Development Corridors.
Bongao tourism officer Kinlene Sabaani, for her part, said they are geared towards creating tour packages to serve better the tourists interested to explore Tawi-Tawi.
“We are still developing it (tour packages) but hopefully early next year we can already come up with it along with our tour operators,” she said.
At present, only those Zamboanga City-based tour operators are serving the province.
The DOT-Armm secretary underscored that at present, tourists shall first coordinate with the local government unit to secure safety.
Dilangalen said tourists are very safe in the area as “tourism police” are placed in the area.
She added the good image of Armm should be accentuated. Dilangalen also called media to stop generalizing the Muslim region as war-torn zone.