Bicol’s Almasor: The tourism triumvirate

Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo (The Philippine Star) - July 6, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - On their own, Albay, Masbate and Sorsogon each have their own gems to offer travelers – Albay, of course, boasts of the world-renowned Mayon Volcano and the Cagsawa ruins; Masbate has its marine sanctuary, beaches and stands out for its cowboy culture and rodeo; Sorsogon is being developed as a hot surfing spot and is home to Mount Bulusan and the surrounding Bulusan Lake. Outstanding individually, put together, these three provinces – dubbed ALMASOR – are a tourism force to be reckoned with.

“The tourism alliance of ALMASOR provides an opportunity for the three provinces to look into their shared history and culture,” Albay Governor Joey Salceda writes in his foreword to a coffeetable book on the alliance.

He continues: “It was pretty easy for the three provinces to come together and join forces because they were part of one political unit for a long period during the Spanish colonial era.” Thus, their shared heritage becomes a unifying theme tying the three provinces together.

In her foreword to the second edition of ALMASOR’s “Soul of the South” book, Department of Tourism Region 5 director Nini Ravanilla writes: “While each of the three provinces have features unique in each environ, the fusion of the three generates a heightened appreciation of seemingly endless landscapes and seashores and people and wildlife.” Further highlighting the alliance’s eco-tourism strengths, she adds: “The beach sand in one province, for example, varies from black to gray; then turns to bronze-like and gold in the adjoining province and becomes milky white in another. All of them joined by an ambivalent sea that is calm and deep in one season and wild and deadly in another.”

Recently, ALMASOR tour packages were launched, centered around eco-tourism, featuring the whale sharks of Donsol and the Subic Island beach of Matnog, both in Sorsogon; the manta rays of Ticao Island in Masbate; and of course Bulusan and Mayon volcanoes.

Likewise, another trio in the Bicol Region, called the Triple C, connects the tourist attractions of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes.

“Covering a total land area of 8,668.4 sq. km., ALMASOR is literally at the heart of the Philippines: the Guinduyanan Point at Burias Island is the country’s midpoint. This speaks to the pivotal role of ALMASOR as a link and gateway to the various destinations in the archipelago,” Salceda says.

Abdon Balde, Jr., who heads Albay’s historico-cultural committee, confirms that “the alliance was well received by the stakeholders, especially Sorsogon and Masbate who before the alliance did not know how to promote their natural assets.”

The two province’s association with the more experienced Albay boosted their tourism value and opened them to a larger market. “They are riding, of course, on the dynamic strides of Governer Salceda,” Balde adds.

Because of the alliance, Masbate and Sorsogon are given the chance to showcase their own beautiful and equally tourist-worthy sites. With the push of Albay’s popularity, the two provinces are given the much-deserved attention that they would not have received otherwise.

Masbate, in fact, reported a 12.6 percent growth rate in tourism in 2013. According to Salceda, this is very encouraging, considering the previous years in which they had very small and even negative growth rates.

Salceda writes: “Before the creation of ALMASOR, the combined tourist arrivals for the three provinces in 2011 was at 655,771 or a growth rate of 16.7 percent from its previous year.” After the alliance was formed in 2012, tourism in ALMASOR reflected a dramatic increase of 33.4 percent in 2012 and 51.8 percent in 2013.

“ALMASOR provides a palette of experiences with a variety of natural sites, heritage structures, adventure sports, festivals, cuisines and local products that give a whole new definition of fun,” says Salceda.

As the alliance continues to strengthen their tourism effort, Balde says their current projects include intense promotions through mixed media; the publication of promotional materials like the “Soul of the South” coffee table books and a recently launched guidebook to ALMASOR; promoting the Tourism Development Area to foreign tour groups and as a potential venue for international conventions. The alliance is also working on training of tour guides centered specifically around ALMASOR, and finally the development of digital tourism.

Thinking of a trip to Bicol? Now there are three great reasons to visit – for three times the fun!

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