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Palompon bags Best Tourism Oriented LGU award

Mayor Ramon Oñate is a happy man after his town bagged the award.

Mayor Ramon Oñate is a happy man after his town bagged the award.

Palompon town in Leyte is Grand Winner for Best Tourism Oriented Local Government Unit in the Philippines for the year 2013, during the Pearl Awards held at the L’Fisher Hotel in Bacolod on Saturday, October 4.

Palompon town bested two other finalists: Mystical Kabayan in Benguet, where Mt. Pulag and centuries old mummies can be found, and Mainit town in Surigao.

The town of Palompon is where Kalanggaman Island is, which has caught international attention after a Lloyd-Hapag cruise ship included it as one of its “virgin destinations” in the country. It has since attracted visitors from here and abroad, aside from the town’s other tourist attractions like giant bat watching, bird watching and deep-sea diving.

Mayor Ramon Oñate received the coveted award from Domingo Ramon C. Enerio III, COO and Vice Chairman of the Philippine Tourism Promotion Board. With him were Palompon’s tourism officer Engr. Cleofe Rivera, environmental officer Raoul Bacalla and the officers of the Palompon Municipal Eco-Tourism Council composed of Rene Camposano, president; Esperanza Sumalinog, vice president; and Dr. Virginia Beltran, secretary.

Asked what was Palompon’s edge was over the two other finalists, Mayor Oñate said maybe it was because they were able to prove that the LGU’s efforts to push tourism in their town was paying off.

Mayor Oñate said that through tourism-oriented policies, they have increased tourist arrivals from less than 200 in 2010 to 27,000 in 2013. Direct revenues derived by the town from the tourists also hiked from P 100,000.00 in 2010 to P 5-million in 2013.

The mayor, however, emphasized that the tourism program in Palompon is run by a totally private foundation, the Palompon Municipal Eco-Tourism Council. The LGU’s hand, he said, was limited to creating the council, and supporting it with regulations and ordinances the officers deem fit to adopt in their town.

“I believe that tourism should be totally handled by the private sector and that the LGU should just lend support to its programs,” he said. After all, he pointed out, when a locality becomes a tourism hotspot, not only the people’s earn income but the LGU revenues from taxes and regulatory fees would also increase.

Mayor Oñate added their tourism program is also inclusive, enabling people of the town to earn a living from tourism. There are the van operators, the motorboat operators, dried fish vendors, souvenir item makers, etc., who are now making a lucrative living from the influx of tourists.

The Pearl Awards was the highlight of the 3-day Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) National Convention, to the theme “Tourism and Development in the Community”. The Provincial Government of Negros Occidental and the City Government of Bacolod hosted the convention.

The Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines, in a press statement, said they believed the country has the potential of growing big in the Asian tourism industry. It was learned that from their combined figures, the number of foreign and domestic tourists has increased, and more investments are being poured into tourism facilities nationwide.

This, ATOP president Alphonsus Tesoro said, was despite some negative travel advisories issued by some foreign countries. The figures, it was also noted, were culled from those “reported” to them.

Investments in tourism facilities and amenities by local governments and the private sector have also increased, he noted.

Tourist arrivals for 2013 hit 2.7 million. This, however, has already been surpassed by the figure for January to July this year which has already reached 2.8 million.

The ATOP officials added they they expect tourists’ arrivals to further increase in 2015, with the visit of Pope Francis and the country’s hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The ASEAN economic integration in 2015 is also expected to boost tourism, where the Philippines can optimize its tourism potentials.

It was also learned that ATOP has pushed for some amendments to the Local Government Code, one of this is to make “permanent” the position of provincial, city and municipal tourism officers. By Lalaine M. Jimenea

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