Cebu’s tourism industry meets DOT Sec. Puyat
SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila (The Philippine Star) - October 9, 2018 - 12:00am

Last Saturday, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat came to Cebu first to meet with the Cebu media and the Cebu tourism stakeholders at the fifth floor of the Waterfront Hotel. To be perfectly honest about it, I have not seen Cebuano tourism stakeholders having a meeting with the Tourism Secretary in a long time. Aside from the DOT Secretary those who spoke where Tourism regional director Shalimar Hofer Tamano, Kenneth Cobonpue the only private sector head of the Regional Development Council Region-7, Glenn Soco, infrastructure chair of the RDC and Andrew Harrison, general manager of GMR-Megawide Consortium whom many of us consider is Cebu’s secret tourism promoter.

What was discussed was Cebu’s being number 8th in Leisure and Travel’s “Best Islands in the World List” for the year 2018 and Cebu’s being included in Conde Nast World’s Top Best Islands for 2017 and that Cebu is the top tourism drawer in the Philippines… that with the new Terminal 2 now completely operational, we expect more flights from other countries to fly direct to Cebu. Andrew Harrison said New Zealand might soon fly to Cebu.

Secretary Puyat also revealed that this coming March 10-12 Route Asia 2019 would be held in Cebu. This forum will be attended by 800 delegates, 100 airlines, 200 airports, 30 Tourism authorities and 20 speakers would talk shop on these two days. Then on June 10-11, 2019 airline CEOs are invited to join the Cebu Center for Aviation (CAPA), which will also be a huge international conference on aviation. It is just unfortunate that the quarrel of Mayor Tomas Osmeña with the SM Group has put on hold Cebu’s version of the ARENA and SMX which would have been a great opportunity to showcase Cebu’s international status.

For the year 2017 passenger statistics for Mactan Cebu International Airport  (MCIA) was pegged at 5,122,469 passengers. That is a 17.44% increase. For the year 2018 passenger traffic rose to 6,543,253 passengers and the year is not over yet. What Sec. Puyat wanted to pursue was a sustainable tourism plan.  She clearly pointed out that as far as slogans are concerned, she isn’t planning to change anything. She bewailed the reality that in most countries their tourism promotion is never changed while in the Philippines every time there is a new Tourism Secretary they change the ad campaign, which is wrong. Finally we have a Tourism Secretary who doesn’t care about these issues.

During the open forum, I gave the group a rundown of Cebu’s tourism growth and history, which all started with Ceboom way back in the mid 1980s when Anos Fonacier sold Cebu as an “Island in the Pacific.” Back in those days, the Philippines had a poor international reputation but the Japanese tourists came to enjoy Cebu and they would fight with their friends that they did not visit the Philippines. Towards the late ’80s the Ayala Group bought my old golf course, the 45-hectare Club Filipino Inc. for P650 million which started the urbanization of Cebu City. Just ask how much it is today!

By the year 2000, Cebu got Gov. Gwen Garcia as the first lady governor of Cebu and she started the Suroy-Suroy program. I call this the second phase of Cebu’s tourism growth because now tourism in Cebu isn’t focused only on Metro Cebu but the entire province of Cebu. Because of this we now have the Butanding tourism destination in Oslob and trekking in the south of Cebu. Then people are enjoying the beaches of Bantayan Island in the North. I call this era the second phase of Cebu’s tourism growth.

Because of this phenomenal economic growth Cebu is experiencing, the infrastructure development of Cebu did not follow its growth, hence I would like to believe that last Saturday’s meeting with the DOT Secretary and Cebu’s tourism stakeholders was historic in the sense that I call it the 3rd phase in Cebu’s tourism growth if things get to move from here.

Cebu’s biggest problem is bad traffic in Mactan Island, which slows down our tourism growth. I dare say that the circumferential road around Mactan has to be widened. This was a project of USAID. Travel to Bantayan Island used to be an hour and a half ride, now it is two hours and a half. The same is happening to travellers driving to the south of Cebu.

The future for Metro Cebu largely depends on the P22 billion Cebu Cordova Expressway (CCLEX) being constructed by the Metro Pacific Investment Corp (MPIC) where the construction started last June. This is key to the growth of Mactan Island because it will bring tourists to the hotel/resorts areas in only 30 minutes. What I felt was good in that meeting with the DOT Secretary is her friendship with many Cebuanos. She also knew that Cebu’s economic growth was moved by the private sector. But now every thing depends on how Sec. Puyat would push for the infrastructure projects that Cebu’s tourism growth needs so badly.

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