With Visayas destinations down, DOT realigns budget

Pia Ranada
While Yolanda-hit areas rebuild, the tourism agency will focus on promoting top destinations in Batanes and non-affected areas in Palawan and Aklan

PARADISE LOST? Bantayan Island, visited for its white sand beaches, will have to rebuild its infrastructure before it can accept tourists. Photo by Bibi delos Reyes

MANILA, Philippines – While Yolanda-hit areas in the Visayas are getting back on their feet, the Department of Tourism (DOT) will focus its efforts next year on other tourism destinations to sustain tourism growth rates.

In a letter to the department, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago suggested an increase in the agency’s budget for 2014 to help rehabilitate the tourism industry in affected areas like Leyte, Samar, and Cebu.

The agency, however, would rather the funds go to other agencies involved in rebuilding and providing basic needs for typhoon victims.

“We believe that government resources are best allocated towards recovery and rebuilding operations in affected areas. Nonetheless, the DOT has prepared a recovery program to sustain tourism momentum,” the agency replied in a November 20 letter.

Santiago said: “We should set up a plan to keep tourism alive in the affected areas. That should be part of the rehabilitation process in order to keep the province alive.”

The DOT’s recovery program entails a realignment of the DOT’s budget so they can create and implement “special market recovery plans” focusing on top tourist destinations not affected by the super typhoon. These include Boracay, Palawan, and Batanes. 

Actively promoting these tourism havens would sustain the tourism growth rate while the Yolanda-battered localities focus on rebuilding basic infrastructure.

Aklan, where Boracay is, and some parts of Palawan, including the beach towns of Coron and El Nido, have been placed under state of calamity, but reports seem to indicate thet are not as badly-damaged as the Eastern Visayas provinces.

No significant decline

According to the senator, Haiti experienced a significant decline in tourism after the 2010 earthquake.

Yolanda’s devastation may cause a slowdown in the country’s tourism growth, but it won’t be a significant decline, the agency told the solon. They are still optimistic the tourism industry will grow by 6% by the end of 2013. 

The agency assured the public and potential foreign visitors that the Philippines “remains a safe and fun destination for all tourists.” 

“The Visayas, despite Typhoon Haiyan, plays host to several top destinations, such as Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, Iloilo, and Bacolod, which remain open for business with their respective ports of entry still accessible to tourists,” DOT said in a statement.

But because tourism is also a source of livelihood and an opportunity for economic growth in communities, the DOT is also working with public and private partners to revive tourism in the affected areas once the more urgent needs have been addressed.

Leyte is famous for its surfing spots, white sand beaches, waterfalls, and historic monuments like MacArthur Park. The Samar provinces meanwhile boasts beautiful cave systems and heritage churches like Basey Church and the Immaculate Conception Church in Guiuan.

Some of the most affected Cebu municipalities are island communities with pristine white sand beaches, mangrove forests, and coral reefs.

Tourism revival

Bringing back tourism in disaster-devastated areas is not an impossible feat.

The best example would be Bohol, which, a month after being hit by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake, is now seeing a revival of its tourism sector.

The DOT Region VII office reported many of Bohol’s tourist sites have reopened. These include the Loboc River Cruise, Tarsier Habitat, and the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park. 

Most tourism establishments have also resumed operations with owners adjusting to complications caused by the earthquake by providing promotional offers and alternative routes and tours.

Bohol’s recovery plan can be replicated for Yolanda-hit areas.

According to the DOT, the plan includes:

  • A communication strategy to bring back the confidence of domestic and international travellers and of the communities
  • Assessment of tourism infrastructure and assets to be prioritized for rehabilitation by concerned agencies and sectors
  • Product development for new tourism packages and projects
  • Long-term initiatives to sustain growth, mitigate risks of crises and increase preparedness of tourism destinations

– Rappler.com 

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.