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New tourism master plan pushed for Samar Island

October 6, 2008 1:10am
TACLOBAN — Seven major destinations would be included in the proposed five-year Samar Island eco-tourism master plan, Tourism officials have said.

Karina Rosa Tiopes, regional director of the Department of Tourism, said the master plan would be completed by middle of next year.

The development of the seven destinations was proposed by the three Catholic dioceses in Samar island. These are the Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park in Basey, Samar; Calbiga Caves in Calbiga, Samar; the network of waterfalls in Calbayog City; the Biri Protected Seascapes in Biri, Northern Samar; the San Antonio Beaches in San Antonio, Northern Samar; the Borongan-Llorente forest canopy in Borongan, Eastern Samar; and surfing on Calicoan Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

Catholic bishops in Samar and Calbayog City Mayor Mel Senen Sarmiento, who also sits as chairman of the Regional Development Council, presented the proposal to develop the seven destinations to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last month.

The proposal also listed 11 major infrastructure projects to support tourism promotion. These include completion of a circumferential road, upgrading of the national highway, opening of access roads to tourist spots, construction of diversion roads, and airport upgrading.

"We have numerous destinations in Samar but we are not market-ready due to the problem of accessibility. Just like Calbiga Cave, it’s the second largest cave in Asia. We have the right to claim that Samar is a caving capital," Ms. Tiopes said.

Tourism officials and private consultants have started preparations for the drafting of the master plan.

"This is not spoon-feeding. The consultants will not make the entire master plan. We have to get the involvement of [local governments units or LGUs]. They will have a sense of ownership because they’re the ones who made the plan. They’re part of the process," Ms. Tiopes said.

Despite the lack of infrastructure support, Samar has continued to promote the various tourist spots, she said. Linkages have been forged with travel and tour operators. Last month, 15 foreign travel and tour operators were brought to Samar by Manila-based travel and tour operators for a familiarization tour.

"We have more natural resources than Cebu but Cebu is lucky to have a very vibrant business community. Planning starts with LGUs. We have to show to investors that their business will be viable in our area, like providing incentives," Ms. Tiopes said. — Sarwell Q. Meniano, BusinessWorld