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Rody a tourist ambassador – DOT exec

The Department of Tourism remains unfazed by the travel advisories issued by foreign embassies, saying the frequent visits of President Rodrigo Duterte to the Zamboanga peninsula have drawn in more tourists. File

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — The Department of Tourism (DOT) remains unfazed by the travel advisories issued by foreign embassies, saying the frequent visits of President Duterte to the Zamboanga peninsula have drawn in more tourists.

DOT regional director Fernando Antonio Blanco said Duterte’s war against illegal drugs and criminals also reinforced the confidence of tourists to visit Western Mindanao.

Blanco said while the visits of Duterte were purely to show his support to the military and police battling the terrorist Abu Sayyaf, the visits have reassured tourists.

“The President himself is indirectly turning into a tourist ambassador wherever he goes,” Blanco said.

Blanco said the security problem was just a perception since this city and nearby towns and provinces remained safe and have become potential tourist destinations.

“In fact, due to the relentless drug war, the crime index sharply dropped by 35 percent in the region and the number of tourists increased,” Blanco said.

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He said the number of Caucasians continued to increase amid the travel advisories issued recently by the US and Australian government to their citizens to avoid areas in central and southern Philippines due to increasing threats of kidnapping by extremist groups.

The US, Australia, Canada and Korea have issued travel advisories following recent reports on the alleged presence of the Abu Sayyaf in Bohol.

“We have a very capable security forces to protect our people… the recent operation in Bohol proves the government efforts to secure its people and the visitors against criminal group,” Blanco said.

Blanco encouraged tourists to continue visiting this side of the country where several untapped tourist spots are just waiting to be discovered.

He said aside from Sta. Cruz Island pink beach, named as one of the 21 best beaches in the world by National Geographic, people recently discovered the longest underground river in Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte.

The DOT urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to be cautious in giving information to the international media about the country’s security situation.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said foreigners usually get information on the country’s security through briefings of law enforcers to the international media.

Teo said that she would discuss the matter with the PNP and AFP.

“The media people from abroad usually get the information from the military because there is a report that the PNP confirms that there is a threat in Central Visayas,” Teo said.

Teo had met with tourism stakeholders and travel agency owners Wednesday afternoon to discuss the current situation in Central Visayas and how to address the cancellation of bookings.

In the meeting, Teo said that they have agreed to join more travel fairs abroad to promote the Philippines, particularly Bohol and Cebu.

Teo said that the country’s tourism industry is affected every time there are travel advisories and if something untoward happens to foreign nationals here.

Lawyer Alejandra Clemente, chair of Rajah Tours, said the government should manage the release of intelligence reports.

“We need close monitoring of cancellations in all markets and inquiries from travel agents abroad on the safety and security of tourists in the light of travel advisories issued by countries which are our major markets,” she said.

Tourism industry leaders said 500 Japanese tourists recently cancelled their reservation in a five-star hotel in Cebu.

There is also a report that a German group had cancelled its hotel reservation for May but the Tourism Promotion Board has yet to verify this.

Teo expressed confidence that the travel advisories will be forgotten in due time.

She reiterated that the Philippines is a safe travel destination for foreign nationals.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella assured tourists that the Philippines remains a safe destination despite the advisories issued by the embassies. 

“We understand the concern of foreign governments over their nationals. However, we assure everyone that the Philippines remains a safe place to work, to conduct business, or simply to have fun,” Abella said.

“While we urge continued mindfulness of one’s surroundings, it is still more fun in the Philippines,” he added.

Five Abu Sayyaf bandits, three soldiers and a policeman were killed after the local terrorist group attacked government troops in Inabanga, Bohol on April 11.

Among those killed was Abu Sayyaf sub-commander Muamar Askali alias “Abu Rami,” who was involved in the beheading of two Canadians and a German kidnap victim.

The attack came as the Philippines is preparing to host the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings next week.

While security forces have thwarted the attack in Bohol, foreign governments issued warnings against traveling to Central Visayas, citing the threat posed by Abu Sayyaf. 

The ASEAN meetings in Bohol pushed through this week after defense officials declared that the terrorist threat has been contained.

Abella said Secretary Teo is coordinating with her counterparts in the region to assure them that the Philippines remains a safe place. He said security around the western province of Palawan has also been strengthened to prevent any untoward incident.

Malacañang previously said tourists’ interest in the Philippines “continues to surge” despite the travel warnings.

The tourism department aims to lure 6.5 million tourists this year. – With Alexis Romero, Robertzon Ramirez 

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