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Business

Bohol tourism bouncing back

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Our Cebu Pacific flight to Panglao International Airport was almost full last Friday. I consider this a good indication of things normalizing in the country’s second most important island for tourism.

I was told that Cebu Pacific alone has seven daily flights to Panglao from Manila and thrice weekly from Davao. With PAL, Air Asia, and a Korean charter that flies twice weekly, tourism in Bohol is definitely recovering from the pandemic and Typhoon Odette.

Margie Munsayac, sales and marketing VP of Bluewater Resorts, said that 70 to 80 percent is domestic tourists, mostly from Metro Manila, eager to do some revenge travel after being locked down for over two years. Indeed, it is almost a patriotic duty for those who can afford to help our tourism establishments recover from the double whammy of COVID and Odette.

Margie said a number of hotels tried their best to retain staff. Manny Gonzalez of Plantation Bay in Mactan told me the same thing. In Manny’s case, he even embarked on a new business – line canning some of Plantation Bay’s best loved dishes like their Kare Kare. It is how to keep their chef and kitchen staff occupied.

Yvonne Villacorte, GM of Ivywall Resort in Panglao, a Best Western affiliate, said she has no problem filling up the 80-room hotel these days. It is the only hotel in Bohol carrying an international brand.

Yvonne said they benefit from the international reservation system of Best Western. Most of their guests are domestic tourists, including Manila-based foreign expats.

The past few months have been tough for the hotels in the Visayas. They had to rebuild facilities damaged by Odette. For Bluewater Panglao, they are still rebuilding the damaged villas and the large events hall that was a favorite for wedding receptions.

Margie said they are happy they kept most of their key staff because it is not easy to train staff. She said some of the trained staff went abroad or now work on cruise ships.

Manny was also telling me that many of his well trained workers at Plantation Bay end up working abroad. He said he is resigned to providing training as a service to the community where his resort is located.

Perhaps TESDA can put up training centers for tourism workers in convenient locations, particularly in our key tourism areas in the Visayas. This is how to help the industry recover and provide jobs.

The newly elected governor of Bohol, Aris Aumentado, is very supportive of the efforts of Bohol’s tourism industry to fully recover. The Governor recognizes tourism’s vital importance in the economy of Bohol.

That is why Gov. Aris is taking to heart lessons learned from Typhoon Odette, specially Bohol’s vulnerability to severe power interruptions. I am told over 11,000 poles were brought down by Odette.

Bohol is totally dependent on EDC’s geothermal plants in Leyte. EDC will start operating a diesel power plant by January 2024 and the NGCP interconnection with Cebu will be operational by October 2023. Its current power demand is less than 100 MW.

Gov. Aris also said he is exploring the possibility of setting up a solar power installation to protect Bohol consumers from high diesel prices.

The Bohol Governor has also ordered mayors in the towns hosting hotels to enforce environmental protection rules so they won’t suffer the pollution problem of Boracay that forced its shutdown for six months.

The other major concern of the Governor is making sure the local value added of Bohol’s tourism industry will be maximized beyond labor.

Gov. Aris will help local poultry, piggeries, and vegetable farms to competitively sell to the local hotels and restaurants. Bohol’s cacao and coffee are already well known beyond the province. A chocolate brand, Dalareich, has won international awards.

Indeed, I think Bohol could do well by promoting culinary tourism. The local chefs are very creative in using local ingredients to provide interesting twists on familiar dishes. They are particularly proud of how they use their ube in many new ways.

There is really a lot more about Bohol than the Chocolate Hills, the tarsier, and the Spanish era churches. The top draw is, of course, their nice white sand beaches. I spent a day relaxing amid the soft steady breeze, with the soothing sound of the waves pounding the shore.

The tourism department should follow the innovative approach of the Indonesian government in Bali that now offers a five year digital nomad visa to encourage visitors to digitally work from their beaches. The remote workers can live in Bali tax free, provided their income comes from abroad.

As the world tries to return to normal, the competition to attract tourists in our region will increase. Margie was thankful that former tourism secretary Berna Romulo- Puyat was very helpful in getting the industry back on its feet.

Margie cited Berna’s efforts to get every worker in the tourism industry vaccinated. That helped make reopening easier, she said.

Now their focus is to get as much of the meetings and conferences market, and Margie is happy to note they are doing well. Individual travelers are using online reservations more and she suggests prioritizing online marketing.

A family run museum and micro hotel, Amarella, run by Doy Luna, a retired lawyer, told me he gets his foreign guests from online travel websites. I did see a number of Europeans in his hotel during my visit.

Margie said the industry must adopt new ways of selling to potential tourists in the digital age. I hope we don’t change our “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign. It is just getting traction, and if we change it because we have a new administration, we start from square one.

Sunday evening in Bohol’s Alona beach shows why it is getting to be more fun in Bohol. It has the nightlife of Boracay. The interesting cultural heritage of the Boholanos is the bonus Boracay doesn’t have.

Tourism is certainly an important industry that provides much needed jobs in the countryside. And it also showcases the best of Filipino hospitality. We should help it get big.

 

 

Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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