THE Department of Tourism (DOT) in Eastern Visayas lauded the tourism initiatives of the Eastern Samar Provincial Government, saying its officials "have been on board" in several of their projects and activities in the province.
"The tourism officers of Eastern Samar are also very active. They organized the Eastern Samar Tourism Officers Association. They regularly meet and conduct joint activities like site assessments and product audits," said Karen Tiopes, the regional tourism director.
She added that tourism "is one of the priorities" of Eastern Samar Acting Governor Marcelo Ferdinand Picardal.
Tiopes said the publicity generated from the return of the Balangiga Bells in December 2018 "also gave mileage in terms of awareness."
"It has actually placed Balangiga in the tourism map. In fact, since its return till the end of January, the municipality already welcomed over 22,000 visitors, said Tiopes.
The tourism director said they conducted an assessment of the existing tour in Balangiga and identified the gaps.
"We now have a list of things that will be done within three months and tasks that will be completed in six months or more," she said.
Tiopes said the DOT has accredited 16 "homestay" places in Divinubo, Borongan and two in Hernani in the province.
"DOT assessed all these homes to determine if they meet the homestay standards and we trained the owners of these houses," Tiopes said.
"For Balangiga, we have yet to assess the homes of those that the local government unit has identified for homestay. This will be part of the medium term 'To Dos' for Balangiga. Priority projects will be training for the stakeholders and frontliners to make the Balangiga Historical Tour market- and visitor-ready," added the tourism director.
According to Tiopes, many local government units also have tourism initiatives already.
"Some are beneficiaries of the YCRRP tourism infra and/or livelihood project," she said.
Meanwhile, Provincial Tourism Officer Franklin Robedizo said that aside from the Balangiga Historical Tour, they are also developing a tour program for other tourist attractions and destinations in Eastern Samar.
These include the Tubabao Island Dobrota Tour, bid to nominate the country's largest forest protected area-Samar Island Natural Park to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) world heritage site and biosphere reserve, and Samar Island Tourism Master Development Plan.
"All these we are being assisted by the DOT regional office," he said.
"Tourism program is a priority development agenda under Governor Picardal's administration, more particularly, as a key economic driver to lower the poverty incidence in the province," Robedizo added.
Based on the DOT regional office's records on total same day-visitors for 2017, Eastern Samar had 80,715 tourists where 294 were foreigners and 80,421 were domestic.
Eastern Visayas received a total of 3,879,849 visitors in 2017 with tourist receipts of P13.97 billion. DOT has yet to issue the complete list of tourist arrivals in 2018. (SunStar Philippines)