Despite threats, Phl’s tourism has moved on
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - September 24, 2017 - 4:00pm

Just last week, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) concluded its 34th Maritime Transport Working Group Meetings successfully in Bohol. We say, successfully, because it was so fruitful and, except for an alleged bomb threat received by the Borja Family Hospital in Tagbilaran City, was totally devoid of unpleasant incidents. 

Considering the deadly encounters just a few months ago, this development is a huge recovery for the tourism industry, not only in Bohol but for entire country as well. Remember, early this year, Bohol, tourism-wise, was perceived to be in a bottomless pit, a hopeless situation. 

To recall, guided by a Bohol native, a band of Abu Sayyafs went to the Island of Bohol through the Inabanga River. Allegedly, a test mission for the Bohol native who was groomed for a leadership role. They were supposed, as usual, to kidnap foreign and local tourists alike for ransom. Well, their usual fund raising activity. Primarily, their target then were the participants in the ASEAN ministerial meeting that was also held in Panglao Island in Bohol at that time.

Had their mission (Abu Sayyaf) been successful, it should have meant bounty for them.  However, for Bohol and its residents, it could have meant scarcity. Undeniably, the Province of Bohol, lacking in job-generating activities like huge manufacturing firms and business process outsourcing outfits, relies so much on tourism for employment. So that, such kind of an incident was just so draining and frustrating.

However, there were, at least, two undertakings that made Bohol resurrect its tourism industry the fastest possible time.  First and foremost, the relentless pursuit of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police of these bandits which resulted to their total annihilation in Bohol.  Secondly, the decision of the ASEAN leadership to go on then, as scheduled, one of its very significant meetings in Panglao, Bohol. 

At least, with these two undertakings, we were able to convince foreign governments and our own domestic tourists that the situation in Bohol was under control. True enough, another ASEAN ministerial meeting was held successfully last week. This, indeed, is a huge confirmation that tourism in Bohol is back and in full swing.

We are not new though in solving this sort of challenges. To recall further, talking about tourism-related fiascos, the Dos Palmas kidnapping was the worst of all. It was perpetrated, again, by the notorious Abu Sayyaf on May 27, 2001. These ruthless bandits abducted twenty (20) hostages from the upscale island resort in Palawan. It resulted in the deaths of five (5) of the original hostages, two of whom were American citizens in Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burnham. Sadly, in trying to rescue the hostages, the Armed Forces of the Philippines lost twenty two (22) of their gallant men.

Today, Palawan’s tourism industry has fully recovered. What Palawan did was remarkable.  Instead of dwelling on such sad experience, Palawan made sure that it won’t happen again. Then, it made sure that their Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park will be known as one of the world’s seven wonders of nature. 

Located about 50 km north of the city of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, it was hardly accessible in the 1990s. Then, one has to stay overnight to reach and enjoy the place. Thus, it never brought in so much visitors. The reason, they made it accessible by constructing a road that leads to the place.

So that, as done by our authorities at the aftermath of the Bohol and Palawan hostage-taking incidents, if something of this sort happens again (prevention though is the better approach), we should immediately conduct a thorough and speedy investigation and resolution of the incident. Definitely, it will appease our potential tourists and their respective governments.   Second, we must assure the world that it won’t happen again and that their citizens’ safety is our primordial concern. Third, we have to continue to develop more innovative products and services. Fourth, we need to build more infrastructures to make our products or tourist destinations more accessible.

Yes, more than ever, we truly understand the necessity of promoting our tourism potentials both here and abroad.  Apart from the need to inform potential market of our rich cultural heritage, historical sites and serene beaches, ours’ and our tourists’ safety must be given emphasis. With that, our tourism industry shall steadily move on.

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