DESPITE security threats, Central Visayas continued to grow as one of tourism’s bright spots in the Philippines this year.
The industry stayed resilient despite some events, such as the confirmed arrival of Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Bohol last summer, said the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) 7.
Foreign arrivals rose by 10.21 percent to 1,274,894 persons, according to the partial report released by the Department of Tourism (DOT) 7 for the first half of 2017.
“The incident in Bohol did not affect the tourism performance of Central Visayas. In fact, guests continued to arrive despite the travel warnings,” said DOT 7 Director Joshur Judd Lanete II.
Cebu recorded 2.2 million tourists from January to June. The entire region logged close to three million tourists during the first half.
“This indicates that tourism remains healthy and vibrant in Cebu and in the region,” said Lanete, who added that even the Martial Law declaration in Mindanao last May 23 did not stop tourists from exploring the country’s tourism jewels.
Went elsewhere in the PH
“It hurt a bit Mindanao’s tourism. There were postponements of travel in that side of the country but instead of delaying their travel to the Philippines, they visited the Visayas instead,” said the regional tourism chief.
Cebu-based travel agency Travelite had some difficulty attracting group leisure and group incentives bookings at the height of summer season, due to security reasons. But looking at the overall performance of Cebu, owner Matt Poonin observed an increase in tourism arrivals, thanks to the entry of both chartered and commercial flights from Northeast Asian countries.
He also observed more tourism-related investments this year.
Alice Queblatin, president of the Cebu Alliance of Tour Operations Specialists (Catos), said the challenges experienced by the industry in the early part of the year were offset byrapid progress in other areas, such as the entry of direct flights from Cebu to neighboring countries and the construction or opening of more hotels and resorts.
Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) is now a home to 23 airlines. Four new airlines that entered Cebu this year are Air Juan, Lucky Air, OK Airways and Sichuan Airline.
For the entire year, Cebu recorded a high number of arrivals from the Chinese market, said Queblatin.
“Our connectivity concerns in the past are being solved now,” said the Catos official.
For Queblatin, 2017 is a banner year for tourism, following the country’s hosting of several big-ticket meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (Mice) events, including the ASEAN 50. Heads of state from Southeast Asia and those of its dialogue partners, including US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, visited the country for the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
On the accommodations front, Carlo Suarez, president of the Hotel, Resort, and Restaurant Association of Cebu (HRRAC), noted high occupancy among city hotels due to the influx of the Chinese tourists.
Resorts in Lapu-Lapu City, likewise, recorded healthy growth with steady arrivals from core markets like Korea, Japan, China, US and the expanding domestic market.
“Hotel and resort players are happy with the revenues this year. This is one of the happiest years (for the hospitality industry),” said Suarez, adding that average occupancy stood at 70 percent.
Chinese arrivals in Cebu alone grew by 94.28 percent from 48,990 to 95,180 during the first semester.
The region, on the other hand, recorded a total of 171,082 Chinese arrivals up by 55.43 percent, landing on the top three list.
Fewer Aussies, Americans
Arrivals from Korea grew by 2.21 percent (402,475) and Japan rose by 2.69 percent (183,413). Arrivals from the US and Australia, during the first half, dropped by 4.30 percent (106,028) and 6.15 percent (32,513), respectively.
Looking forward, Lanete said that Cebu is up for “exciting times” as something bigger is in store for province’s tourism industry in 2018. He declined to disclose details but emphasized that these projects would offer tourists a new way of experiencing Cebu.
Coming from a healthy 2017 performance, tourism stakeholders are eager for a brighter 2018.
Suarez said more rooms will be opening next year, just in time for the opening of the MCIA Terminal 2.
“We expect higher revenues for next year as the tourism landscape of Cebu will further improve. Bigger tourism expenditure is expected as more tourists will come to Cebu,” said Suarez, the general manager of Cebu Grand Hotel.
Neda 7 said the completion of MCIA Terminal 2 and the Panglao International Airport in Bohol are expected to boost the travel industry and would have a positive impact on tourism and allied industries.
Domestic flights rose by 15.3 percent in the first half, while international flights expanded by 39.4 percent.
“The region’s tourism industry will accelerate its growth momentum in 2018,” said Neda 7.
More than attracting the leisure market, which Cebu has already done in the global tourism market for the past years, industry players are now pushing the province as a leader in the Mice category.
“We are already an established leisure destination. It is about time we push harder for our island to be a Mice destination,” said Queblatin, also owner of Southwinds Travel and Tours.
She said Cebu, specifically, offers a great contrast to the lifestyle of Singapore, a leader in Mice in the Asean, which is known for its man-made attractions.
“Because of the difference of the atmosphere and lifestyle of people here, when Singaporeans come here (for post-conference) they really have fun,” said Queblatin.
“For too many Asean meetings, we have become something like a post conference or an extension for them. But we can be both (leisure and Mice). We should be both,” she said.
Moreover, 2018 also calls for a higher-level of tourism offerings particularly for travelers 35 and younger.
Queblatin said Cebu should graduate from offering a mere sight-seeing tour and should evolve into offering guests “experiential tourism”.
“Gone are the days where you just show them the site, guests would love to experience the history, culture, and interact with locals,” she said, adding that this new way of showing off the country’s best is more appealing to the young travelers, who collect more experiences than material things.
“We need to give them in-depth tours,” she said.