• Major gateway to the region has ‘primitive’ facilities; transport scalpers operate unabated, victimizing tourists and discouraging repeat visits
Tacloban City – The conditions of the airport in this city, considered the region’s primary gateway but one of the “most primitive” in the country, took center stage during a strategic planning conducted by the Department of Tourism (DOT) in cooperation with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry-Eastern Visayas on Thursday, July 5, at the San Juanico Hotel and Golf Course.
On top of the complaints against the “primitive” airport facilities were complaints against transport scalpers preying on unwary passengers.
Vans, taxi and pseudo-taxi services collect as much as P 3,500 for “pakyaw” to Ormoc City, around two hour away, or other destinations.
A trip to a hotel at Tacloban City proper can cost as high as P 300.00 per person, it was further bared. This “tourist unfriendliness” is a common complain heard from first time visitors.
Engr. Robert Castañares, president of the Southern Leyte Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that it was disgusting that the region’s gateway was badly managed. Southern Leyte, he pointed out, is trying its best to develop its tourism industry but visitors who have a bad experience at the Tacloban airport is likely not to come for a repeat visit.
He demanded that DOT and DTI include the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) in the group’s next planning session so that these issues are threshed out.
The next schedule was tentatively set on July 12 and 13. This time with the Executive Development Committee of the Regional Development Council as the tourism development plan for Eastern Visayas is expected to be finalized and endorsed by then to the Tourism Development Authority (TDA).
Karina Rosa Tiopes, regional director of the DOT, said they would be inviting CAAP and LTFRB to the said meetings so that the chambers will hear from these agencies what their response to the problems are.
She added that the observations aired by the chambers were not new. She informed those present that there had been many dialogues done already over the same issues, but except for lip service from the concerned agencies, nothing concrete has been implemented.
She is also happy to note that the private sector is taking an active role in government’s planning of its economic direction, adding this is the essence of public-private partnership that the P-Noy administration is advocating.
Present during the activity were presidents of the various chambers in Leyte and Samar islands and PCCI governor Atty. Roy Fiel of Ormoc City.
The planning was held at the San Juanico Hotel and Golf Course owned by former pres’l assistant for EV Vic Domingo.
Tiopes, who said that the planning had to be moved to the venue after initially identifying the new Oriental Leyte Hotel “because our office could not afford it”, added that the San Juanico Hotel and Golf Course was the fitting epitome of the evolving tourism industry in the region.
Former presidential assistant Domingo also said as much during a short talk with the participants, when he shared how he bought the golf course in 2006 and turned it from the flop it was 22 years ago to one of the region’s “place to be”.
He added that a golf course was a magnet for moneyed tourists like the golf-crazed Japanese and Korean nationals.
During the planning, DOT presented the six tourism development core areas long identified in EV which include Guiuan in Eastern Samar, the Sogod Bay Dive Sites in Southern Leyte, MICE in Tacloban and Palo in the province of Leyte; the industrial/educational corridors from Palompon, Isabel, Ormoc, Baybay; the sand and beach destinations of the three provinces of Samar Island including historical and heritage tours.
Tiopes said their office aims to implement a few high impact projects towards the end of the year up to April 2013, among which is the renovation of the Tacloban airport, to design and launch the EV tourism website which is reportedly a work in progress, the installation of billboards at international airports, training of industry frontliners and putting up of road signages to destinations.
They also hope to organize familiarization tours and caravans to industry players and increase the number of heritage sites for recognition, accreditation of primary and secondary tourism enterprises, among others.
She also urged the chambers to bat for the submission of realistic visitor arrival statistics, adding these data will for DOT’s use only and will be treated with confidentiality.
It was learned that some popular tourist places disdain submitting their tourist statistics because the Bureau of Internal Revenue might breathe down their backs.
In a recent tourism activity, some LGUs and provinces bucked at the data presented by the regional tourism office of “the most visited places and destinations” in the region, adding that some of these places/hotels were even unknown to them. A tourism official retorted that unfortunately, these were the only establishments/destinations that submitted their tourist arrival statistics. By Lalaine M. Jimenea