DOT launches domestic-tourism drive in Mindanao

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi—The Department of Tourism (DOT) has launched an aggressive local tourism blitz, aside or away from the internationally known destinations in the country.

Dubbed “Go South,” Filipino travelers are being encouraged to tap and patronize world-class destinations at home across Mindanao.

“Our mantra for the campaign is ‘You only live once.’” The government tourism campaign seeks to persuade Filipino travelers, especially millennials, “to embark on a new journey of new things and new experiences.”

In this campaign were new advertisement teasers like “Go Surf in Siargao,” “Go Rafting in CDO,” “Go Dive in Talikud, Samal and Camiguin,” “Go Dive in Dipolog,” “Go Culture in Sox,” “Go Regatta in Zamboanga” and “Go Durian in Davao.”

“The ‘Go South Philippine Islands’ would also be the banner campaign to be adapted by the Go Mindanao Bus that would have a grand launch in May,” the DOT said.

In this launch, 30 buses would trek the road from the national capital down south in Mindanao, bringing with them foreign tourists, social-media writers, foreign and local media, and tour operators.

However, some things still have to be ironed out here, following the environmental abuse by businesses in Boracay.

During the last two weeks in Siargao, the local government and environmentalists sought the assistance of the DOT to improve their waste disposal.

They have asked for at least a sanitary landfill to ensure a clear disposal destination of the wastes as the island surfing destination has begun teeming with people.

A BusinessMirror report cited a provincial tourism office monitoring indicating that visitors have reached 129,730 by last year, 35,000 of them are foreigners.

Of the total number of foreign tourists who went to Siargao last year, the largest numbers came from Australia (2,244), a country also known for its surf spots; Germany (1,826); Spain (1,763); Canada (1,706); and France (1,511).

With the number also comes the problem of waste disposal that has threatened the sustainability of many destinations, including Boracay, the country’s premier attraction among foreign tourists.

The BusinessMirror said DOT Undersecretary for Public Affairs, Communications and Special Projects Katherine S. de Castro may request the environment department to help Siargao establish its own sanitary landfill, and the public works department to assist the island with constructing the roads leading to the landfill.

She said Siargao was a good example of a community and local government leaders that sounded off “what it needs.”

Although Tawi-Tawi has not been officially given an advertisement plug for the Go South promotions, Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo lauded the proposal of the Mindanao Development Authority “to develop the Tawi-Tawi Integrated Seaport and Economic Zone.”

“We believe in the vast tourism offering of the island, including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao [ARMM], specifically Tawi-Tawi. With its beautiful beaches and its location as a natural gateway, there is vast potential for the island,” she said.

Bongao municipal Mayor Jimuel Shia Que  welcomed the assistance to the developing attraction of its destinations, notably its highest peak Bud Bongao, a pilgrimage site among Muslims. Tawi-Tawi’s first mosque in Simunul Island remains the province’s most visited site, making the province the highest contributor to ARMM’s tourism receipts.

Last year it attracted 55,085 foreign and domestic visitors, who spent P965 million to boost the province’s tourism receipts that year, the ARMM said.

The province’s bountiful ocean catch was also a major reason for its attractiveness.

However, Que cautioned about the recent influx of traders and the growing complaints among local residents about the disappearing fish supply in the market.

He said he would be gathering the traders, local businessmen and community leaders to thresh out the problem, which he ascribed to wholesale dispatching of the fish catch from the main landing area in Bongao to Zamboanga and on to Manila.

“People are concerned now that they cannot buy fish in the market as much as they used to get before,” he said.

The concern was also raised by local restaurants and accommodation owners who said visitors were often surprised why they could not offer prime delicacies anymore.

Although he could not speak for the other 10 municipalities of Tawi-Tawi, he said the trend in Bongao may be also happening there “because this is where all the fish catch landed.”  Bongao’s 100,527 residents rely mainly on fishing.

“We would like to ensure the benefits of tourism would not deny our people of the bounty of our natural wealth,” he said.

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Manuel Cayon has written about Mindanao for several national newspapers for more than two decades, the most part of it on conflict-reporting, and on the political, insurgency and civil rights front. He also scribbles on the religious and human rights issues for the Thailand-based Catholic news agency as well as he strings for several wire agencies. His stint with then TODAY newspaper started his business reporting obtaining in Mindanao, continuing to this day with BusinessMirror. He received citations and awards, including two Biotechnology awards for reporting. He was a fellow of the US International Visitors’ Program Leadership in 2007 on conflict resolution and alternative dispute resolution. He attended college at the Mindanao State University and the Ateneo de Davao University