The Department of Tourism (DOT) in Western Visayas is optimistic it would reach its tourist arrival target of 6.1 million this year despite pressing environmental preservation concerns hounding Boracay Island in Aklan, the region’s top tourist destination.
DOT Region 6 Director Helen Catalbas, at the sidelines of a tourism awareness conference at L’Fisher Hotel in Bacolod City Tuesday, said they are not stopping the promotion and marketing of Boracay while the “cleansing” process continues.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier warned to close the island if the environmental problems are not resolved within six months.
Catalbas said though they are confident that the cleansing period set by the President is achievable, most probably within two to four months, there is still a need to further strengthen tourism campaigns among other provinces in the region including Negros Occidental.
“While we are into cleansing and monitoring tourist arrival movement, we are not stopping our promotion efforts,” she said, adding that “there is no let up on the marketing of Boracay and other tourist destinations in Western Visayas.”
Partial reports of DOT-6 showed tourist arrival in Western Visayas last year is about 5.5 million, higher than 5.1 million in 2016. With this figure, the regional line agency already hit the 2017 target of 5.5 million.
The figure comprises only about 95 percent of last year’s total tourist arrival since other provinces have yet to submit their final reports.
No travel cancellation yet
Since the issue on possible closure of Boracay blown up earlier this month, the regional line agency has not yet monitored significant decrease in the number of tourists coming to the island.
Catalbas said they are very keen on monitoring if there are cancellations but “we are into the second week and cancellations are not yet evident at this time.”
The average guest arrival in Boracay is still ranges from 4,500 to 5,000 per day, Catalbas added.
In 2016, Aklan ranked first with highest number of tourists catered, at 1.9 million. Negros Occidental, including Bacolod City, was second at about 1.6 million.
Catalbas said if ever there would be a slight decline in the number of tourists in Boracay, it would be overtaken by the strengths of the cities in provinces of Negros Occidental and Iloilo as well as Antique.
This means that all the other destinations are getting stronger, she said.
Catalbas said the agency's purpose in focusing on enhancing marketing strategies is to narrow the gap between Boracay, which is so high, and other destinations in the region.
"Negros Occidental and Bacolod City can really augment and contribute a lot in keeping the region's tourist arrivals," she said, adding that "we are really pushing for further development of other provinces while maintaining Boracay."
As part of the measures to boost tourism industry of Western Visayas, the agency recognizes the need to host lot of events in the region.
Catalbas said they will strengthen already-established festivals in order to invite more and sustain the tourist arrivals. The region will campaign for more investments on accommodation and food sector development.
"We are also banking on additional flights and boat trips to bring in more tourists to Bacolod and other Negros Occidental cities and municipalities," she added.
The regional director cited sports tourism as another "asset" of Western Visayas.
The region is currently hosting two major sporting events such as the National State Colleges and Universities Athletic Association Meet and Western Visayas Regional Athletic Association Meet in Antique and Iloilo, respectively.
With the region's facilities, attractions and venues "I am sure Western Visayas is a strong destination for sports tourism."
Through the DOT's Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (Mice), Catalbas said they will also be very active in going out and bidding for all kinds of events.
Impact to employment
Meanwhile, the possible slump in the tourism industry of Boracay since tourists might shift to other destinations if the issues remain unsolved and is feared to have a negative impact to employment.
The DOT official said most of the workers at the island are from other places like Negros, Cebu, Manila and other provinces in Luzon.
Catalbas said that they will start coordinating with local government units (LGUs) in the region as to how many can they absorb if incase establishments in Boracay will layoff employees due to low tourists arrivals.
"Though there are no cancellations of trips now, we have to be proactive. We will consult our LGUs ahead to allay possible adverse impact of these challenges on employment," she added. — BAP, GMA News