LOCAL TOURISM ADVOCATES UNITE TO PROMOTE ISLAND ATTRACTIONS
By Pablo A. Tariman
VIRAC, CATANDUANES — Local tourism advocates under a united umbrella called Tropang Turismo is calling on the private sector to help push tourism and encourage private initiative even as some tourism projects are hampered by lack of government funds.
“I think lack of funds that often stalls government initiative should not prevent us from doing our best to keep the island in the tourism circuit,” said Ferdie Benavidez Ocol who also heads a photographers’club always in the look-out for new tourism attractions in the island. “I have been away from the island for so long for good jobs abroad and when I came back, I realized that Catanduanes is sheer paradise and that it deserves nothing less,” added Ocol whose photographs of new tourist spots in the island are cheered by netizens.
Thus far, the new celebrated tourism attractions in the island are the Balacay Highland Point in Benticayan, Baras, Catanduanes and just recently, the Binurong Point in barrio Guinsaanan in Baras town this province.
Ocol said that one sustained promotion in social media keep these new attractions in the public eye and as a result, they are now visited by both local and international tourists.
Pointed Ocol: “But we need to be prepared when the tourists come. The roads leading to those attractions should be improved and barangays should look at them as new sources of income. We should train local tourist guides who know the places and their history.”
Tropang Turismo recently met with tour operators at the Sea Breeze Restaurant here to discuss tourism concerns which brought up among other subjects, the lack of professional tourist guides, unpredictable weather and lack of competitive tour prices.
“We are up against national tour operators who can offer better prices and better tour sites,” said Patricia Mae Apil of Catandungan Travel and Tours.
Tour operator Nilo Gianan, Jr. pointed out the lack of linkages with sectors who can help push tourism.
Architect J. Romano who takes care of the cultural component of Tropang Turismo observed: “The main problem is how to market tourism in Catanduanes. Local tour operators should not stop encouraging tourists to visit the island province. Catanduanes is dubbed as the ‘Gateway To Caramoan.’ Tour operators should grab this opportunity and encourage tourists not to go straight to Caramoan but visit Catanduanes first, or after Caramoan. Tour operators should enhance tourism products and services. They should develop complementing tour packages/tourism circuits not competing tourism products and a more aggressive and sustained marketing and promotion.”
Meanwhile, the need to protect local historical and tourist sites came up with members of Tropang Turismo posting photos of vandalized landmarks like the Bote Lighthouse in barrio Batalay, Bato town in this province.
When photos of the vandalized landmark hit social media, the netizens were in uproar and called on islanders to respect historic landmarks.
Tropang Turismo member and photographers’ club member Floyed Evangelista Flores reminded young people that sightseeing is not just about taking selfies but also being responsible when visiting local landmarks.
Netizen Pat Ricia commented that tourism promotion in Palawan is a success because citizens cooperate. “When you ask them why their surroundings are so clean, they will say that they do so because tourism is a good source of livelihood.”
Local culture advocate Estrella Placides commented that local government should pass ordinances that will make it a crime to deface local landmarks.
Meanwhile, the social media tourist promotions of Tropang Turismo have elicited good response from both local and national visitors.
Balacay Highland Point in Benticayan barrio in Baras town continued to be frequented by visitors while Binurong Point in Guinsaanan received its regular share of visitors when the breath-taking photos hit social media.
“If we just have the will for it, things will happen,” added Ocol who introduced this writer to Binurong Point in the company of Guinsaanan barrio captain Emerito Tariman and local barrio officials and tourist guides.
Pointed out Ocol: “First, we have to orient barangay officials on how we can sustain the influx of tourists. The area should be cordoned from visitors who might deface it. Local tourist guides should know how to deal with visitors and of course some infrastructure should be introduced for easy access to the tourist spot. But first of all, we should leave these natural attractions as they are without artificial improvements. Tourists find them appealing because they are not tainted by man-made improvements.”
Meanwhile, gubernatorial candidate JB Wong who joined the dialogue with tour operators said he wants to listen to all sectors involved in tourism and will do something if and when he is elected to the position. “I plan to support the tourism summit that will happen sometime in May and certainly I will be very sensitive to everybody’s concerns.”
In another development, Ocol’s photos of Binurong Point have elicited praises from celebrated netizens.
After seeing the breath-taking photos, world-acclaimed Filipino pianist Cecile Licad commented she would like to do a concert in Binorung Point, award-winning poet Marne Kilates said the place is simply beautiful and retired PAGCOR CEO Jorge Sarmiento found the place very picturesque.
(To be continued)