Bicolandia beckons as new tourist magnet
By David Casuco, Contributing Writer
LOS ANGELES – Time was when the picture-perfect Mount Mayon in Daraga, Albay is everything there is to Bicol tourism. Today, there are a great number of destinations that had been developed as global tourist magnets like the Camarines Sur Water Sports Complex, the thrilling whale-shark experience in Donsol, Sorsogon, and the majestic waves in Catanduanes that are ultimate jewels to every surfer’s dream.
And as the visitors keep coming, DoT-5 Regional Director Maria Ong-Ravanilla and her team are going places to do road show events that seek to drum up more interest and to lure visitors and investors to Bicolandia. Since 2006 Ravanilla and her group annually travel to North America to update the FilAm expats on Bicol’s fun-filled travel experience.
The Bicolandia or Region-5 sits at the southeastern peninsula of Luzon island. Daet, the northernmost and first important city of the region, is 342 kilometers southeast of Metro Manila, a 10- hour drive by bus or a 45-minute trip by plane. Bicol Region is composed of six provinces, namely: Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, and the island provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate.
At a community presentation last week held at the Rizal Hall of the Philippine Consulate General in this city, Ravanilla told a highly-engaged crowd that Bicol tourism is looking up once more and she expects more good things to happen in the near future. Ravanilla said the tourism industry in Region-5 is definitely on the upswing. She asks the FilAm expats to help promote Bicol as an important tourism destination.
“We need you to achieve our goal for 2016… we ask you to be our partners in promoting the Bicol region,” she said. Ravanilla’s group included Legazpi City (Albay) Vice Mayor Vittorio Roces, Victor Zepeda, Vice Chairman, St. Expeditius Golf & Residential Estates, and a representative from the Oriental Hotel in Legazpi City.
Ravanilla said that DoT’s goal for Bicol is to receive 1.5 million foreign tourists in 2016. The projection was based on the Region’s performance in the last five years that saw tourist arrival figures register dramatic upturns of up to 30 percent from 2009 to 2010. That year, Bicol ranked number two among the 15 regions in tourist arrivals. Also, in 2010 Camarines Sur overtook Metro Manila and Cebu as top tourist destinations in the country. Last year, though, the 9.3 percent gain was far less impressive compared to the past five years.
Asked by Pinoy Watchdog about security issues, Roces said that there are no threats whatsoever to foreign tourists visiting Bicol. “The growing tourism industry in the region gave the locals more jobs, including the rebels, a lot of them have returned to the fold of the law,” said Roces. “It is so inspiring that this positive thing is happening.”
Bicol, no doubt, is not wanting in tourist attractions. Aside from the natural wonders and man-made landmarks, the Bicolanos hold festivals the whole year round, the most famous of those is the Magayon Festival. Other big festivals include Bantayog Festival (April 15, Camarines Norte), Kaogma Festival (Maytime, Camarines Sur), Kasaggayahan Festival (October, Sorsogon), Catandungan Festival (Catanduanes), the Rodeo Masbateno Festival (Masbate), and the Penafrancia Festival in Naga. Camarines Norte.
Magayon (beautiful) Festival is a month-long summer festival that celebrates the legendary “Daragang Magayon,” from which Mayon Volcano got its name. Legend had it that a beautiful maiden “Daragang Magayon” and her lover were killed by another scheming and jealous man, who is also one of Magayon’s zealous admirers. The lovers were buried side by side and from that grave rose a majestic mountain that is now the Mayon Volcano.
The Bantayog Festival (April 15) is held annually to commemorate the first monument built in honor of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. The monument was erected on December 30, 1898 by the Filipino revolutionaries. The Bantayog Festival features civic and military parade, agro-industrial trade fair, exhibits, and sporting activities.
Last year, Bicol had a total of 742,038 foreign tourist arrivals out of the total 3,917,454 million that visited the Philippines. During the first quarter this year, Bicol Region ranks fourth in the foreign tourist arrivals among 15 regions in the country. The national target this year for foreign tourist arrivals is pegged at 4.2 million.
Compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors, the Philippines remains a lightweight in the tourism market. Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia posted 24, 19, and 8 million tourist arrivals respectively last year.