ILOILO CITY, Philippines – The new tourism thrust of Western Visayas veers away from the “beaten track” by focusing on the region’s unique land and marine topography, and its agriculture history.
The Sugar Heritage Trail, one of the new tourism products undergoing a consultation process with stakeholders, sprawls across two clusters: northwestern Negros Occidental and the city and province of Iloilo.
The Negros Occidental cluster will have 37 sites in the cities of Silay, Talisay, Victorias and Bacolod City and the town of Manapla. The Iloilo portion will have 19 sites.
At a press conference on January 24, DOT-Western Visayas Regional Director Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez said the region is taking its cue from Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco, whose 7-point agenda seeks to expand travel destinations from perennial favorites Cebu, Palawan, and Boracay.
“The products that we prioritized in 2023 are not the same as before where we just focused on sun and beach, cultural tourism because we are also competing with other regions,” Rodriguez said.
The Region 6 tourism office aims to rev up visitors arrival by promoting the following:
- Western Visayas Sugar Heritage Trail;
- Fun Farms Program;
- Slow Food Travel Project;
- Boracay Biking Tours;
- Boracay Wellness Workation;
- Boracay Food Crawl;
- Development of Western Visayas Dive Circuit; and
- Development of Inter-Regional Products for the Visayas Cluster.
Sugar has always been the bittersweet lifeblood of Negros Occidental, which still accounts for more than half of the country’s sugar production.
It also played a major role in molding the culture of Iloilo, where most of the Negros landowners originally hailed from. Another Panay province, Antique, is the main source of itinerant sugar industry field hands called sakada.
The Western Visayas Sugar Heritage Trail will market sugar story itinerary circuits. Apart from visits to sugar farms and mills, it will also feature hacienda houses and food-related services and experiences.
This package will allow tourists to experience the way of life of the sakada and the hacienderos or the owners of sugar estates.
The agriculture portion of the region’s tourism push also includes the Fun Farms Program and the Slow Food Travel Project.
The Fun Farms program aims to enhance and update strategies in farm tourism promotion, build capacity in making farm experiences more impactful and sustainable, and strengthen partnerships in creating new farm tourism products.
Rodriguez said the program will build on the success of 42 agricultural farms accredited as tourism-related establishments.
The DOT will also partner with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Science and Technology, and Slow Food communities in Negros Occidental and Panay Island for the Slow Food Travel Project.
Slow food refers to the movement that aims to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions in the backdrop of the fast-food culture.
The program will conduct research and resource mapping of agroecological and cultural diversities linked to food. It will also identify communities that protect slow food heritage.
DOT-Western Visayas data show that 2.8-million foreign and domestic tourists visited the region in 2022, a 109% increase from the 1.16-million arrivals in 2021.
That is still a long way from the 5.8-million visitor arrivals in 2019 before pandemic hit in 2020, sending the number of arrivals plunging to only 1.06 million.
The bulk of tourists in 2022 went to Aklan with 61% or 1.7 million, followed by Bacolod City with 19% (547,483), Iloilo City and province with 5% each (144,571 and 131,310, respectively), Negros Occidental with 4% (117,766), Guimaras with 3% (88,852), Capiz with 2% (68,168), and Antique with 1% (30,025).
The 2022 arrivals accounted for P37.87 billion in tourist receipts. Visitor receipts are determined by Visitor Arrivals, Average Length of Stay (ALOS) and Average Daily Expenditure (ADE). – Rappler.com
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