Of all the regions in the country, I think Visayas can boast of being the only one with a history which intertwines with that of our country.
It had its first contact with Western civilization when Ferdinand Magellan, on a global expedition for spices, landed in Homonhon, Eastern Samar. He later proceeded to plant his iconic cross on the shores of Cebu to symbolize his conversion of the island’s natives to Christianity.
Unfortunately, his valor was no match for Lapu-Lapu, a brave Datu of Mactan island, who engaged him and his soldiers in a fierce battle that led to his end. That, in a capsule, was Magellan’s foray into our country.
The Visayas region, which got its name from the Sanskrit word “Srivijaya”, progressed through the centuries to live up to its etymology and become “excellently prosperous”. I’m proud of it because I’m from there.
Fast forward to today, the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) recently hosted a forum to update its members on the latest industry developments in Visayas. The virtual event started with its President’s Report on TCP’s stellar achievement, in spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic. This was followed by a very interesting talk by chief operating officer Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones of the Tourism Promotions Board, the event’s sponsor.
This marketing and promotions agency of our Department of Tourism is pursuing its pivot to help our tourism industry survive this pandemic-induced downturn by embarking on three strategies: Smart Tourism, Partnerships As Pathways, and Safe Bangon Travel.
Smart Tourism leverages on digitalization as travel and tourism events have now shifted to virtual and hybrid modes. TPB has also developed and enhanced the new Travel Philippines App, the official guide to safe and fun travel around the country.
Partnerships As Pathways is designed to make reaching a goal easier when friendly contacts are established along the way, thus, TPB has started partnerships with local government units, obtained the support of the private sector, and has strengthened its inter-agency collaboration.
For our industry to bounce back, Safe Bangon Travel calls for the broadening of our domestic tourism base, preparing for the resumption of international travel and focusing on TPB’s banner programs HABI (which brings displaced workers to the weaving industry), HILOM (for the unemployed to get involved in our wellness industry), and HALAL (to fill in the needs of the large Middle East market).
The various Tourism regional directors in Visayas followed next with their respective presentations. Phoebe Areno, tourism operations officer of Region 6 or Western Visayas (composed of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, and Negros Occidental), happily announced that the region is up and about, ready to welcome domestic tourists with its many offerings.
Its Fun Farms give tourists a choice to visit and enjoy any of the 35 accredited farms in the region, and its Dive Circuit brings enthusiasts to its amazing dive sites. The Slow Food Tour shows tourists its 134 agro-biodiversity products, and the Sugar Tour gives emphasis on stories and livelihood derived from the sugar industry for which the region is known.
Of course, the region’s most popular destination, Boracay, is more than ready for tourists. Aside from its world-famous beaches, its new Biking Tour brings visitors to other interesting spots on the island, and the very interesting Food Crawl lets tourists do a restaurant-hopping for a set menu, as each item has to be partaken of from different restaurants.
There’s also Wellness Workation, where leisure time at the beach can go hand in hand with office work. In fact, I know of some hotels on the island offering a “Work From Paradise Package” where room rates include the use of office equipment, so guests can easily accomplish office tasks while enjoying themselves on the beach.
Shalimar Tamano, director for Region 7 (Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor), bannered its faith-based tourism, made possible with the cooperation of the Agustinians and the Archdiocese of Cebu, the province being the origin of Christianity in the country. It also offers Gastronomy Tourism which highlights heirloom recipes for guests to savor.
The region’s Al Fresco Taste and Tour brings guests to beautifully designed open-air restaurants. And since the preference of tourists these days is the outdoors, the region has tapped sports organizers, making it easy for them to hold landmark events of any size. Of course, Region 7 is proud of its Dive Festival which showcases the beautiful dive spots of Moalboal, Malapascua, Lapu-Lapu City, and Panglao.
Karina Rosa Tiopes, director for Region 8 (Biliran, Leyte, Northern Samar, Samar, Eastern Samar, and Southern Leyte), announced that the region experienced an 82 percent decrease in tourist arrivals, which explains why only 28 percent of its accommodations have reopened so far. Nevertheless, being on the country’s eastern front where typhoons usually enter, and used to overcoming all sorts of challenges, the region is ready to bounce back and grab its share of domestic tourists.
I am looking forward to my first visit to that “Crown Jewel of Leyte”, the beautiful, postcard-pretty Kalanggaman Island in Palompon, where, I am told, the sand is bone white and as fine as powder. Leyte also has its Bike Tour that can take guests all the way to San Juanico Strait, to marvel at that beautiful infrastructure that connects the province to Samar.
Another tour worth taking is that which includes Leyte’s seven heritage stone churches and the historic Limasawa Island, where the first Roman Catholic Mass was celebrated when Magellan arrived. In Northern Samar, there’s the amazing Biri Island rock formations sculpted by waves through the centuries, and for a more sedate attraction, one can opt for the Secret Kitchens of Samar, a project that runs up to December this year, featuring the province’s culinary heritage and recipes long kept and treasured, ready to be experienced by the new generation.
All these and more are ready to enthrall tourists in Visayas, now that quarantine restrictions have eased up. Think of it this way – from among a multitude of destinations in the world, Magellan chose to land in Visayas. There must be something beautiful and interesting waiting for everyone there. Wouldn’t you want to find out for yourself?
YOUR weekend CHUCKLE
What do you call a bee that can’t make up its mind? A Maybe.
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