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Connectivity buoys tourism

by December 22, 2016 General

ALTHOUGH not as busy last year, Cebu’s tourism sector continued to move forward with the entry of new flights that cemented Cebu’s connection to the world.

According to the GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp., Cebu is now connected to 14 international destinations from just seven in 2014, with 45 air traffic movements (ATMs) per day compared to 30 ATMs previously.

Cebu is also connected to 26 domestic destinations, with 139 domestic flights per day as compared to 115 ATMs in 2014.

The industry celebrated this year Cebu’s first connection to the US mainland through the Los Angeles-Cebu direct flight via Philippine Airlines, as well as its reconnection to the Middle East through Dubai via Emirates Airlines.

‘Steady but uneventful’

Increased connections were also seen in countries like Singapore, Taiwan, China, and Japan.

“The tourism industry this year was generally steady but rather uneventful compared to the last five years,” said tourism advocate Jonathan Jay Aldeguer. “However, we have seen some momentum in international visitors.”

According to Aldeguer, the constant upgrade of Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) and the addition of international flights drove the industry’s growth the past year.

The upgrading of the airport has stimulated ease of travel and has helped Cebu strengthened its position as an international hub to Central Visayas. The additional international flights have helped Central Visayas tap new markets,” said Aldeguer, adding that these improvements have made destinations in Central Visayas’ more competitive against other Asian countries.

Cebu was also named this year’s fifth best island in the world by Conde Nast.

The hotel and resorts sector, especially in Cebu and Bohol, have remained robust, as the efforts to put together attractive packages have continued to lure international visitors.

‘An attractive destination’

“Tourism in Cebu these last 15 months have been most encouraging. After the success of APEC in August and September of last year, the opportunities for Cebu as a meeting and leisure destination soared. There was a steady interest from the business sector, both national and regional, on the advantages that Cebu had to offer,” said Julie Najar, president of Hotels, Resorts and Restaurant Association of Cebu.

She added the increase of international flights to Cebu is an indication of the attractiveness of the destination. Najar said Cebu has become a jump-off point to the Visayas and Mindanao.

“The leisure market is consistently doing well, as we see more resorts and hotels being opened and the current ones are upgrading their services. This is an indication that they are keeping up with the demands of a more challenging tourism industry,” said Edilberto Mendoza Jr., president of the Cebu Association of Tour Operators.

For the Department of Tourism (DOT) 7, the industry is thriving.

“As it continuously gains momentum, we are confident that we will exceed the 5.8 million tourist arrival target this year. We have marked a 12-percent partial growth rate from January to August this year, compared to last year’s arrival within the same time frame,” said Judy Gabato, DOT 7 Officer-In-Charge.

Promising start

Cebu’s tourism sector had a strong start in 2016, as it played host to the International Eucharistic Congress, which drew 12,000 participants from 55 countries. It also hosted other events such as the ASEAN Tourism Forum, Ironman, and the World Street Food Congress, which promoted the region as a Mice destination.

Also this year, Cebu and Bohol wereincluded in Abercrombie & Kent’s Tour Around the World by Private Jet, a first for the Philippines by the luxury travel operator. This is a two-year program with another trip scheduled for 2017.

However, Cebu was challenged toward the latter part of the year.

Growing concerns about traffic, availability of new places of interest, and safety of the tourists rocked the industry’s performance.

The US Embassy issued a travel warning over possible kidnapping by terrorist groups in the southern part of Cebu. Countries like the United Kingdom and Canada followed suit and alerted their citizens.

The setback was considered temporary.

Gabato said that the advisory has not affected tour and hotel bookings. She said the south of Cebu has remained a crowd drawer because of its rich natural and historical sites.

Leadership transition also affected the sector’s performance.

Mendoza said some tourism projects like the Mice manual, hop-on-hop-off bus, and the night market were put on hold, awaiting the appointment of the new DOT 7 chief.

“It took the Duterte administration a long time to appoint a new regional director,” said Mendoza.

It was only last month when the government introduced Catalino Chan III, former tourism director of Northern Mindanao, as the new tourism director for Central Visayas.

Bright prospects

Moving forward, tourism players said prospects for Cebu’s tourism sector looks bright, with the continued programs on tourism infrastructure.

According to Mendoza, the government’s focus on infrastructure development is a positive sign toward a more vibrant and active tourism industry.

“Connectivity by air, land and sea is a priority project that the present tourism administration must look into. The more accessible our islands are, the more we can attract foreign visitors to come and stay with us. We already have a new airport and more hotels to address our accommodation requirements. What we need now is to be more connected with each other,” he said.

Solve existing problems

While most of the programs necessary to boost tourism in Central Visayas will require the involvement of other agencies, Aldeguer said the DOT can lobby to address traffic congestion and infrastructure.

“No amount of promotion and marketing will make Cebu a top destination if we do not solve the traffic problem. Being a hub of Central Visayas, this will affect all nearby destinations as well,” he said. “Moreover, the rapid growth of Cebu will need immediate infrastructure solutions. Better roads, transportation options and access to tourism hot spots are critical.”

Najar, for her part said, the DOT, in partnership with tourism stakeholders, needs to go on an “all-out campaign” to sustain the stability of the tourism sector.

“With such a volatile industry, one always has to be positive. We all do our job to promote Cebu and the Philippines. We, as a destination have a lot to offer, we just need to work together to welcome an aggressive Tourism common goal. Payback comes after,” she said.