The State of Tourism in Catanduanes (Part II)
ISLAND TOURISM AND CULTURE AND THE ARTS
By Pablo A. Tariman
From 1992 to 2015. islanders in Virac and Bato towns were lucky to watch concerts of classical music being performed by both national and internationally acclaimed artists.
National Artist for Music and former CCP president Lucrecia Kasilag did a lecture-demo in Bato’s Tingog Center and in Virac’s Risen Christ Hall. She found the seaside view from Virac to Bato so reminiscent of New Zealand. “You have a beautiful home province,” she told me.
Romanian violinist Alexandru Tomescu with pianist Mary Anne Espina got a standing ovation at the Provincial Capitol lobby. After visiting the beach and the nearby cave, Tomescu declared: “This island is pure paradise.”
Luring tourists through the performance of classical musicians came up in the dialogue with tour operators with gubernatorial candidate JB Wong listening to assorted tourism concerns and hinting of a possible tourism summit in April.
Not all provinces are lucky to have classical musicians visiting them but at least Catanduanes has its regular, though, once or twice a year happening.
They bring in Grade A tourists and will enjoy the tourist attractions after the concerts.
But concert organizers should tie up with tour operators for a well-planned tourism package with concert events.
“If they are sponsored regularly,” one told Wong, “the island will have a yearly classical treat for both local and foreign tourists.”
A coming attraction for both local and foreign tourists is the coming March 19 classical guitar recital of prize-winning classical guitarist Aemilio Cecilio Enginco at the Marem Pension House Function Hall.
Architect J. Romano — from San Andres town and formerly with the provincial tourism office — moderated the dialogue with tour operators in the island.
After exchanging views, a tourism summit in April was suggested to let all sectors come up with suggestions on how to improve the state of tourism.
Romano is also a member of Tropang Turismo which is composed of the Catanduanes Sunday Tours, the Catanduanes Photographers Club and Kulturang Catandungan and G-Events Group.
Working closely with Provincial Tourism Council head Ferdie Benavidez Ocol, Romano and the diverse groups travel all over the island every weekend looking for potential tourism sites.
For now, the most talked about sites are the Balacay Highland Point in barrio Benticayan in Baras town and the Binurong Point in barrio Guinsaanan in the same town.
Their work doesn’t stop after identifying the sites.
They talk to the leaders of the community and orient them on how to handle tourist influx, how to preserve the site and brainstorming on how tourism can help improve the income of the barangay.
For now, the Binurong Point in Baras town is considered the hottest tourism discovery along with Balacay Point in the same town now frequented regularly by island visitors.
Romano points out the other emerging tourist sites are the Pusgo Island in the town of Bagamanoc where ex-governor Vincent Villaluna is offering packaged tours and the Palumbanes Island in Barangay Toytoy in the municipality of Caramoran which is an alternative to Caramoan (in Camarines Sur) with its pristine white beaches and amazing coastlines.
His views after the new discoveries and after working for a while with the provincial tourism office. “Clearly the problem is how to market tourism in the island. So far, we find the use of social media as very effective and the best marketing tool. What should be addressed now is how to sustain tourism momentum. We should link closely with tour operators on how to promote the sites with better package deals for visitors. They should help promote possible tourism products and services with an aggressive and sustained marketing promotion. Working with the Provincial Tourism Office was an eye opener for me. Having worked abroad and coming back only in 2010, I acquired a new perspective of the island. It also made me appreciate more the potentials of tourism development in the province as well as developing its dying culture. But the problem is we have so little support from the government – financially and morally at that time.”
Again he emphasized: “Community based tourism is very important. The local government units should support i the barangays where tourism sites are located. Local tour guides are needed and must be fully trained.
The architect who is also working on the cultural component of Tropang Turismo is highly positive on the future of the island in the tourism front.
He concludes: “Catanduanes they say is comparable to Bohol and Batanes. But as it is, the effort is very slow, the response to urgent tourism concerns is for the most part limited to endless meetings and with nothing solid worked out. One of the problems I encounter is that tourists need a bigger and better Pasalubong Center. The A-B tourists want a high-end hotel and resort accommodation. Luckily, Catanduanes Midtown Resort in Barangay Batag, Virac is the very first to offer an exclusive boutique-hotel accommodations. But we still need to improve skills and capabilities of tourism front-liners. We should develop homestay programs. We should encourage community-based rural tourism and promote eco-tourism. We should empower local communities where there are tourism sites by creating economic opportunities for everyone in that community.”
(To be continued)