Back on track
By Earl D.C. Bracamonte
A favorite destination for its natural tourist attractions, the province of Bohol is home to centuries-old churches, tarsier sanctuaries, mystical cave systems, unspoiled dive sites, and the world-famous Chocolate Hills. Surrounded by 73 islets, the province’s 47 towns and lone city comprise a total land area of 4,117 sq. km. and traversed through a 265-km circumferential road.
However, the Oct. 15 earthquake followed by the Nov. 8 super typhoon Haiyan brought much collateral damage to the province’s thriving tourism industry. There were numerous booking cancellations following both incidents and tourist arrivals drastically dwindled causing lost revenues to small and big industry players alike. What outsiders saw in the news were only images of damaged infrastructures, in particular, the centuries-old churches of Dauis, Loboc, and Baclayon.
It gave the impression that the island province is no longer a safe destination and tourist attractions have been destroyed when such is not the case. Aside from six of the 47 old churches and some cracks in a few of the bridges near the epicenter and one Chocolate Hill, not much damage has been experienced especially in the routes where the day tours happen. Most of the damaged structures are the oldest, including the provincial capitol building.
Stakeholders of the tourism industry through the Provincial Tourism Council (PTC), the provincial government, Department of Tourism and USAID-Compete are working hand-in-hand in implementing a speedy recovery program for the tourism sector.
“We want to communicate the message to our potential market, to tour operators, and the industry in general that Bohol is still a good destination as before. We want to overcome the perception that Bohol is a disaster area. The province is now undergoing a total rebranding and repackaging; showing our resiliency with new tour products like the Geo-Science adventure treks. These are tours on the epicenter sites and in places where uplifts (like the one in Punta Krus) and submersion (like the sink hole areas) as they now become new destinations to visit. It is Nature healing itself; like a balancing act.
“The PhiVolcs conducted sessions with the locals on awareness and on correcting the wrong impressions through misinformation. The tourism infrastructure is intact except for a few bridges and new routes have been made. The rebound was fast. Roads to the countryside tours were not damaged at all.
“Typhoon Yolanda had a more serious impact on our tourism wheel as the power grid source supplying the entire province is from Leyte. So the entire island of Bohol had no power for 20 days. Thus, November 2013 was our worst month because it was a peak month. Pumps needed electricity to extract water, so water was scare for three weeks. There was a 50 per cent drop on arrivals. Luckily, the influx started to pick up when December came. Our product development programs are helped by international entities like the USAID-Compete and the World Trade Organization, “ revealed Atty. Doy Nunag, president of Bohol’s PTC and proprietor of the highly-acclaimed Amarela Resort.
Day tour sites
Baclayon Church may be in ruins but it has not stopped from being a major tourist destination. Visitors are now allowed to go inside the edifices wearing hard hats. Inside, you will find that the gigantic church area, especially the altar and pulpit, is still intact.
The parish church of Alburquerque, Sta. Monica, was built in the mid to late 1800s and has one of the most beautiful interiors. This is an alternative site to the popular Baclayon or Loboc churches because it has not been affected by the massive tremors. Sta. Monica and Panglao churches still remain the pilgrim sites despite the devastation. The Baclayon Church can still be visited despite the heaps of rubble.
The Loboc and Lu-ay river cruises were among the first business to reopen a few days after the quake. Cruise operators admitted they were hardly hit by the twin disasters. Before the quake, a good day would bring in over 2,500 guests. After Yolanda, a good day would not even bring in 500 guests. However, the numbers are fast picking up.
Another favorite destination is the tarsier sanctuaries. At the Corella forest, you will find the tarsiers in their natural habitat. Interestingly, there are foreign volunteers who have been trained in tour guiding and environmental protection.
The crown jewel of Bohol, the Chocolate Hills, has remained intact except for one hill that cracked during the quake. The Chocolate Hills Adventure Park opened quite timely after the tremors subsided. “The disaster response mechanisms were already in place, even before disaster struck. New tour products have now popped up because of the quake. These are those that are outside the pipe-line projects. It’s simply an opportunity in the face of adversity.
“Our heritage sites need the help of NCCA and the National Historical Commission as well as the embassies and other related foundations. To date, the PTC is still open to suggestions on how to improve tourist arrivals; like inviting members of the photography clubs and giving them local accommodation facilities and special stay rates,” continued Atty. Nunag.
New holiday hideaway
South Palms is a 9.3-hectare tropical enclave entrenched within a 45-hectare sprawling beachfront property. Cloaked in verdant surroundings, white sand shores, and crystal clear waters, it is touted the ultimate beach destination.
“Like the Bohol Beach Club that we acquired, South Palms also has 80 rooms. Why the name? South because that’s where Panglao’s location is, and ‘palms’ because it sounds nice and rhymes well with south. We opened last December 1st and we welcome walk-ins aside from our booked guests. We are doing this endeavor not only for us but more so to help Bohol’s thriving tourism industry,” intimated resort manager Hope Uy.
South Palms is the newest resort in Panglao. Owned by self-made businessman Marlito Uy, it opened a little over a month after the 7.2 magnitude quake rocked the island.
This exclusive hideaway boasts of having the longest beach area in the entire Panglao Island where guests can take leisurely strolls early in the morning and/or when the sun sets at dusk. One of the things that make South Palms unforgettable is the food. Served fresh every day, most ingredients are ferried from their own farms straight to the resort’s kitchen.
“Guests may also sample the island’s culinary treasures with our half-board meal packages, a special treat so guests need not worry where to dine next. We are the only resort in Panglao that farms our produce and prawns. We maintain our bangus and tilapia pens, piggery and poultry, as well as our vegetable plantations. We integrate the Boholano culture into our service hospitality,” shared F&B manager Lyn Uy.
With the steady rise of returning and new visitors to the province, Bohol is definitely back in business. For updates on what’s happening in and around Dagohoy country, simply browse #visitbohol2014.