BACOLOD CITY—Tour guide Virna Ascalona Tan is pretty excited about the brisk business among tour operators and guides these days. “Our association [of tour operators in Negros Occidental] usually coordinates requests from Manila-based travel agencies, and many of our tour guides are so busy, some cannot accommodate the growing demand. So it’s a good sign that everyone is not so free!” she told the BusinessMirror.
Based on data provided by the city tourism office, it appears Bacolod is indeed back in business. Last year, visitor arrivals were recorded at 618,612, of which 587,695 were domestic travelers, and foreign travelers accounted for almost 31,000. This was already 77 percent of the pre-pandemic arrivals of 803,911 in 2019. Last year’s arrivals also generated close to P11.7 million in visitor receipts, which is 75 percent of the P15.8 million earned by the economy from tourism in 2019.
With this, Jessamine Marielle L. Madayag, Bacolod City’s senior tourism operations officer, projects arrivals this year to reach “700,000, with some 70,000 to 100,000” accounted for by visitors during the Masskara Festival in October.
The city brought back the festival for the first time last year, since the pandemic closures. She added, after the Bacolod Chicken Inasal Festival over the weekend, other major festivals
seen bringing in tourists this year
include the Masskara Festival and the Diwali Festival in November, a collaboration with the Punjab and Sikh communities in the city, and in December, the city has a collaboration with the West Negros University in celebrating the Festival of Lights.
Spillovers from Boracay
“We’ve been getting tour groups with foreigners, most of them married to former residents of Bacolod, and a few senior citizens,” said Tan, who also owns T3 Trips Tickets Tours, a tour operator, which also has a branch in Iloilo City. “We’re also thankful for Boracay because many of the tourists we have now are spillovers from them. It’s so easy to come to Western Visayas,” and visit the provinces that comprise it, “because there are so many entry-exit points with their own airports.”
Meanwhile, she observed that the European tourists are not so enamored with historical structures in the city “but are into interactive experiences with locals.” This bodes well for the Slow Food Movement, Tan noted, which plans to offer coffee trails and visits to cacao nurseries, positioning the city as a Slow Food travel destination in Asia. “After coming from Manila where they ate rich food, they come here and they like eating a simple chicken tinola, talking to the local cooks…authentic experiences with the locals,” she said.
The MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, exhibitions) business in the city is also picking up with two events per month, which are usually held at the SMX Convention Center.
Locals, domestic travelers lift restos
For his part, Bob Magalona, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Negros Occidental (Herano), likewise said their members have reported brisker business, which started in 2022 as the alert levels came down when Covid cases decreased. “Although these are still revenues,” he admitted, and members have yet to hit their 2019 profit stride.
Magalona, who also owns the 58-year-old Bob’s Restaurant, said locals and domestic travelers have aided the local restaurant industry’s recovery: “People come here from Manila, from Cebu, from Davao, so it’s local customers.” Even during the pandemic, he noted, Bob’s restaurants and cafes, “had to remain open, although with a skeleton force, and we divided them among branches. So we would get Grab orders, then people started coming in…”
Herano has 70 members, “but because of the growth of hotels, they will spin off into their own group. There are so many big hotels na, I think about 23,” he noted, with more coming in to offer guests the slower, relaxed lifestyle for which the City of Smiles is known.
Property developer Megaworld Corp., for one, will be putting up a Kingsford Hotel in the company’s township property, the second after its hotel in Manila. The 12-story condotel will have 300 room keys and good-sized meeting and convention facilities, that will help Bacolod become a major MICE destination in the country.
Image credits: Stella Arnaldo