Despite slow growth in 2018, island tourism on right track
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With tourist arrivals growing by just 2.98 percent last year, tourism officials are confident that tourism development in Catanduanes is in the right direction, citing the consistent rise in the number of tourists visiting the island.

In his message during the 2018 State of Tourism Accomplishment Report (STAR) presented last week at the Victor Hall of the Virac Town Center, Provincial Board Member and Committee on Tourism Development chairman Vincent Villaluna said that the island and its people are now ready to embrace the world in the Happy Island.

Thanking local tourism stakeholders for their commitment and dedication in promoting Catanduanes and asking them to be prepared, he bared that last year he was invited as a resource speaker during the convention of the Bikol National Association of America in Seattle, Washington, USA where it was announced that the group will gather in Legazpi City for their 29th national convention this Feb. 15-17, 2019, with the attendees to hold a side trip to Catanduanes.

In her report, Provincial Tourism officer Carmel Bonifacio-Garcia disclosed that a total of 229,256 tourists visited the island in 2018, compared to 222,623 in the previous year, for a growth rate of 2.98 percent.

“Medyo mababa ang growth rate,” she remarked, adding that the peak in the past decade was during the 2013 to 2015 period.

Foreign tourists accounted for 5.11% of the 2018 total at 7,786 arrivals, while the domestic tourists numbered 221,470. The top 10 markets for the island were USA, China, Australia, Japan, Canada, Singapore, Germany, Russia, Italy and France.

Garcia, however, clarified that the total tourist arrivals may be understated as the count did not include “balikbayans” from other countries who were visiting and staying with their relatives. The arrival data is mostly based reports from accommodation establishments, some of which do not submit regular reports.

The 2018 tourists generated 279,692 jobs and resulted in P265 million in gross receipts from domestic tourists and P13.5 million from foreign visitors. As a result, the accommodation occupancy rate in the island was at a healthy 89.71%, with each visitor staying for an average of two nights.

The top five accommodation establishments were Twin Rock Beach Resort, Rakdell Inn, Villa Tolledo Tourist Inn, Catanduanes Midtown Inn and Queen Maricel Inn.

Garcia reported that a survey of 280 tourists in 2018 showed that majority belonged to the so-called Millenial Generation aged 18 to 34. Those surveyed, most of whom were first-timers, said they were very satisfied with their stay on the island while on leisure, visiting friends or relatives, or doing business.

The survey, conducted through the use of tourism survey forms, is said to be the first to be done in the Bicol region.

The Top 10 most visited places

Occupying the top 10 tourist spots to be visited last year are (in descending order): Binurong Point (Baras), Puraran Beach Resort (Baras), Twin Rock Beach Resort (Virac), Balacay Point (Baras), Palumbanes Island (Caramoran), St. John the Baptist Church (Bato), Bote Lighthouse (Bato), Tuwad Tuwadan Lagoon (Pandan), Tres Karas de Cristo (Virac), and Cagnipa Rolling Hills (Pandan).

Virac remained the most visited town as it is the entry point to the island and home to most accommodation establishments. Ranked 2nd to 11th are Baras, Bato, San Andres, Caramoran, Pandan, Gigmoto, San Miguel, Bagamanoc, Viga, and Panganiban.

Based on the same survey, the most visited tourist attractions in the PAVIBA tourism zone were Panay Island and St. James the Greater Parish (Panganiban); Cathy’s Spring Resort, Our Lady of Assumption Church, Soboc Cove and Botinagan Beach (Viga); and, Paday Falls, LORAN station, and Ilihan Point Fertility Island (Bagamanoc).

In the GIBBSAM tourism zone, the most visited were Nahulugan Falls, Dororian/Bahaw Falls and Nupa Lagoon (Gigmoto); Puraran Beach, Binurong Point and Balacay Point (Baras); PAGASA Radar Station, Maribina Falls, Bote Lighthouse, Batalay Shrine and St. John the Baptist Church (Bato); and, San Miguel River Park, Solong Falls, and St. Michael the Archangel Church (San Miguel).

In the PACASAN tourism zone, making the list were Tuwad-Tuwadan Lagoon, Carangyan Beach, Hiyop Highlands, Cagnipa Rolling Hills and Cagnipa Beach (Pandan); Palumbanes Island, St. John the Baptist Church and Toytoy Beach (Caramoran); and, Luyang Cave, Amenia Beach, and Our Lady of Sorrows Shrine (San Andres).

In the capital town, Twin Rock, Mamangal White Sand Beach, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Tres Karas de Cristo (Talisoy Beach), and Virac View Deck (Danicop) attracted many visitors.

The Museo de Catanduanes also had its share of visitors, with the number of guests nearby doubling from 828 in 2017 to 1,487 last year, generating entrance fees of P39,490.00.

Ms. Garcia also reported that 237 participants attended five trainings conducted last year: Kulinarya, Homestay Training, Course on Housekeeping, Tourism Safety and Security, and Basic Tourism Statistics Training[U1] .

Currently, there are 12 accommodation, two tour operators and one restaurant on the island which are accredited by the Department of Tourism. Aside from the top 5 inns, the others are Casa Remedios Bed & Breakfast, Kemji Resort & Restaurant, Terrazas de Ponti Mansion, RHAJ Executive Inn & Apartelle, Virac Hometel, ARDCI Corporate Inn, Marem Pension House, Katandungan Travel & Tours, Island Escape Travel & Tours, and Fernando’s Asian Cuisine.

In marketing and promotions, local tourist spots were the subject of 13 familiarization tours, travel shows and travel exchanges, with write-ups appearing in 17 blogs and seven features on national dailies.

During 2018, the province celebrated two festivals, Catandungan in October and Abaca in May, with local tourism officials attending seven seminars, workshops and meetings.

Directions for 2019

The provincial tourism officer said that more capability building activities on tour guiding, homestay, customer service and frontline operations, tourism transport handling, Kulinarya, and product development/tour packaging.

“We need to retool and relearn our capabilities in partnership with DOT,” she underscored, noting that out of the 10 tourist guides trained for Binurong, only three remain.

She also pointed out the lack of homestay places in other towns and urged the Panganiban LGU to exert extra effort in attracting visitors as several homestay hosts from the town were already trained.

Since most of the destinations are eco-tourism sites, Garcia cited the lack of tourism infrastructure in the DOT-DPWH convergence project on access roads to tourism sites.

A report of DPWH District Engineer Gil Augustus Balmadrid showed that five projects with a total funding of P90 million had been completed in 2018: P10 million for an access road to the LORAN station and other destinations in Bagamanoc, P16 million for an access road to Paday falls in Bagamanoc; P33 million for the road to the Hiyop Highlands and Su-nog Cave in Pandan; P16 million for the road leading to Tuwad-Tuwadan Lagoon and nearby sites also in Pandan; and P15 million for the road to Bitaogan beach in Bato.

The paving of five road projects are still uncompleted, with the DPWH-DOT allocating another P130 million for them as well as the access road to Pananaogan port.

She bared that for 2019 and 2020, the focus will be on the uncompleted projects in Pandan, Bagamanoc and Bato. Other LGUs need to submit their tourism development plans before they could be granted projects, she added.

Institutional support and governance would be in the form of the updating of the Provincial Tourism Development Plan, resolutions and ordinances to strengthen policies and laws affecting the industry, and continued consolidation of the local tourism data base and statistics.

A more aggressive publicity, promotion and marketing campaign will be undertaken, with a guide book containing all information about Catanduanes to be crafted in 2019.

An ordinance authored by PBM Francisco on the collection of P100 environmental fee from tourists, in exchange for a tourist access pass that would be stamped upon arrival in various sites will be hopefully implemented, Garcia said.

The One-Tourist, One Tree Program will be strengthened, she said, while the proposed and unfunded three-storey Tourism Pasalubong Center at the former eco-park beside the old capitol building will feature a 3rd floor bridgeway connecting it to the provincial museum.


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