CEBU, June 1 (PIA) — Reinventing the country’s image, particularly Central Visayas, as a tourism hub is the greatest challenge faced by the regional tourism department amid a global pandemic as the government wants to slowly open economic activities that have largely been pummeled by the strict lockdowns.
Shalimar Hofer Tamano, regional director of the Department of Tourism (DOT) Central Visayas, said it will be a cutthroat competition once tourism will open as other countries are also eager to go back to business and open its doors to foreign tourists.
The country’s closure to international leisure travel gives the region suitable time to prepare the safety measures in the tourism sector, to assure and attract tourists that it is perfectly safe to travel to the country and the region in particular, said Tamanao during the recent virtual meeting of the Regional Development Council-Economic Development Committee (RDC-EDC 7).
“Though it would take a miracle to find the (Covid-19) vaccine at this time, the technology now is quite cutting edge, so who knows,” said Tamano, citing Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that by September, China can hopefully come out with the Covid-19 vaccine.
“What is important is that we must be ready,” said Tamano, as Central Visayas is mainly a tourism destination.
One area that Tamano is strongly pushing for in reinventing is branding the region as a medical tourism hub, with the numerous medical and nursing schools in Cebu, the center of Region 7.
Tamano said similar to Singapore and Taipei that are branding themselves as medical tourism hubs, the region also needs to promote itself as such as this would translate to increased investments on medical wellness.
“We have a niche market on this considering that we have 25 international flights in and out of Cebu,” said Tamano.
Another branding for the region is to be an Information Technology hub, as Cebu is the center of English as Second Language (ESL) education in the country, both online and offline classes.
“We need to strengthen Cebu as an ESL center in the Philippines,” added Tamano.
According to Tamano, tourism today is knocked down and “we are lucky if we can get one million foreign tourists and 1.5 million for domestic tourists to visit Central Visayas until the end of the year.”
In 2019, the DOT-7 welcomed 4,308,226 foreign tourists and 5,116,084 local tourists to the region or a total equivalent of 9.4 million tourists combined.
The figure went up by 16.36 percent compared to the eight million combined arrivals the previous year.
In anticipation of the decline in tourists, Tamano said that to bounce back and reinvigorate the tourism industry, we need to focus on value-added tourism or high-end economic turnout once domestic tourism is rolled out.
“The trick on how to do this is to focus more on the economic contribution with the lesser number of tourists,” said Tamano, adding that this is now the trend all over the world.
Tamano cited the announcement of the Supreme Court (SC) including Cebu as one of the testing venues of the bar exams in 2021, which could pave the way to energize the local tourism sector.
“Imagine, all the bar takers from the Visayas and Mindanao will flock to Cebu and will be staying an average of one month,” said Tamano.
Tamano said he has already talked to SC Court Administrator Atty. Jose Midas Marquez about this plan, and to ensure the successful stay of bar takers in Cebu, he plans to talk to review centers and food carriers.
The DOT-7 director said this is also an opportune time to showcase Cebu as a tourism getaway, and local tour operators need to prepare for local tours for deans and members of fraternity and sorority to make their stay even more memorable.
“All these are ideas that we are exploring but need to prepare,” said Tamano.
Tamano, however, voiced one major concern that could prove detrimental to the tourism industry in the absence of clear guidelines on Covid-19 testing for travelers.
“If my kids in Manila want to visit me in Cebu, does that mean they have to undergo Covid-19 testing at the NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport)? And upon arrival in Cebu, they will again be subjected to another testing at the MCIA (Mactan Cebu International Airport)?” asked Tamano, adding that there is no clear resolution yet on this concern.
“If this cannot be resolved, then this will be a huge problem,” said Tamano.
RDC-EDC 7 Chair Virgilio Espeleta agreed with Tamano, saying this would be a deterrent to revive the tourism industry, which is already losing so badly.
“We need to reinvent and repurpose tourism. But the immediate concern now is the survival of those who are wholly dependent on tourism. The challenge and burden is to feed and provide livelihood to the people who have been displaced because of this Covid pandemic,” stressed Espeleta. (fcr/PIA7)