CEBU CITY, Philippines – Officials from the Department of Tourism (DOT) in Central Visayas said that the region is ready to reopen to tourists weeks after Typhoon Odette damaged many facilities and sites in the area.
“Others may think that tourism is just for leisure. For us, it’s not like that. It’s our livelihood. The pump boat operators, the hotel employees, our tour guides…what will happen to them? So, we need this,” DOT Central Visayas chief Shalimar Tamano said in Cebuano at the International Tourism Fair opening on Friday, February 18.
Preliminary data from the Department of Tourism- Central Visayas (DOT-7) released to the media showed that the region incurred at least P3.3 billion in damage due to Odette.
In Cebu alone, damage to tourism sites was pegged at P2.5 billion.
The typhoon damaged at least 90% of tourist facilities in Cebu City and 260 other sites in Cebu province.
Bohol reported incurring at least P433.2 million worth of damage.
DOT Central Visayas recorded P428.7 million worth of damage in Negros Oriental tourism.
According to the province’s tourism office, out of the 50 tourism boats used for dolphin-watching in Bais City, only five remained operational.
Region-wide, at least 500 establishments and 2,367 workers have been affected by the typhoon overall.
Reopening despite damage
Local government units are trying to quickly rehabilitate their sites as the Philippine government has allowed fully-vaccinated tourists to return to the country starting February 10.
“About 90% of our tourism stakeholders were badly affected. And about 50% of our tourism stakeholders, especially the under Highland Blooms and Ecotourism [project], are now back in operation,” Cebu City tourism head Jocelyn Pesquera said in a press briefing on Friday, February 18.
The city’s “Highland Blooms and Ecotourism” project refers to the push for increased tourism in the city’s lush mountain barangays.
Because power in some areas in Cebu City have yet to be fully restores, Pesquera said that the city government has provided generators to hotels and other tourist sites for their continued operation.
As for Lapu-Lapu City on Mactan Island, tourism officer John Kristoffer Rafols said 70% to 80% of their establishments are prepared to serve foreign tourists.
While many of the large hotels and resorts closed due to the onslaught of Odette, they expect to be able to fully open by the second quarter of 2022.
Cebu provincial officials have met with diplomats from Japan, South Korea, and other countries that make up a large portion of the province’s foreign tourist arrivals to encourage them to return in 2022.
In Bohol, all establishments in Panglao Island are open, although electricity hasn’t been restored in all places.
“All of our accommodation establishments in Panglao are now open, although not all of them are energized. There are still generators and they are still open and ready to accept guests,” said Bohol tourism head Joan Pinat.
Loboc and Danao in Bohol are targeting a March 1 reopening date.
In Negros Oriental, dolphin-watching is already open in Odette-devastated Bais City, as well as the white sand bar in the Manjuyod town even with limited boats available.
Tamano told local media that the nation’s move to welcome fully vaccinated tourists is “timely”, given the importance of tourism to the local economy.
This is especially true for Cebu, whose local economy is heavily reliant on tourism.
According to DOT data, 2.86 million of the 8.6 million foreign tourists who visited the Philippines in 2019 – or about 35% – went to Cebu.
The island province’s tourism sector was among the hardest hit areas when the coronavirus pandemic prompted lockdowns in the Philippines and all over the world in March 2020.
“That’s why this is timely. Because, the narrative in the big cities, in the country, and even in the world is that we are ruined, we are damaged. And that’s not true. Cebuanos baya ta (We are Cebuanos)…. So yes, there is damage here and there but that will not stop the Visayans from opening,” Tamano said. – with a report from Ryan Macasero/Rappler.com