Bohol readies for rebound; DOT sets recovery program

by Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo, Special to the BusinessMirror

Posted at May 16 2014 09:27 AM | Updated as of May 16 2014 05:27 PM

MANILA, Philippines - After a devastating earthquake that left many of its heritage churches in ruins and tourism destinations disheveled, Bohol is ready to regain its footing and become once again a haven for tourists as it implements a recovery program.

“In very simple terms, the Bohol Tourism Recovery Plan identifies very specific projects that will actually cause a recovery. When you have a major earthquake like that, you end up with geological features that are highly touristic. There are now parts of Bohol, for example, that have now exposed the bottom of the ocean, and the USAID [United States Agency for International Development] got excited over that,” said Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. on Thursday, at the sidelines of the pre-conference briefing on the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

Data from the Bohol Tourism Office showed a 57.31-percent slump in visitor arrivals in the province in 2013 to 387,005, largely owing to the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit last October. Although foreign arrivals actually rose 11.42 percent to 111,966 in 2013, from 100,490 in 2012, domestic tourists plummeted by 66 percent to 274,683 in 2013, from 806,194 in 2012. Total visitor arrivals in Bohol rose by 5.43 percent in 2012 vis-à-vis 2011.

The recovery plan will be presented and turned over on Friday to the local government of Bohol, headed by Gov. Edgar Chatto, in a ceremony to be witnessed by Dr. Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The recovery plan was jointly prepared by the Department of Tourism, UNWTO, the Pacific Area Travel Association (Pata) and the USAID.

Jimenez said the recovery plan was developed “following a series of fact-finding missions and extensive research over a five-month period to help the province recover from the effects of last year’s earthquake. It includes a communication strategy to bring back the confidence of domestic and international travelers and of the communities, as well as an assessment of tourism infrastructure and assets that need to be prioritized for rehabilitation by the agencies concerned, international donors, development partners, national and local government agencies, and private sector.”

The Bohol Tourism Recovery Plan includes product development for new tourism circuits and long-term governance programs to sustain growth, mitigate risks of crises, and increase the preparedness of tourism destinations, he added.

Rifai, who arrived in Manila on Thursday, will also be meeting with the local government and private-sector officials. The visit ends with a brief technical tour to the Tarsier Sanctuary, Loboc River, Loboc and Alburquerque Churches, and Punta Cruz Watch Tower.

Jimenez said the Bohol Recovery Plan is “separate” from the heritage project supported by President Aquino, which would help restore heritage churches “because that’s a seven-year program.” He was unable to give the exact amount the Office of the President would extend to the heritage building-restoration project but said that, “under the law, we’re obligated to fund it.”

The October 2013 earthquake damaged seven heritage churches designated as National Cultural Treasures or National Historical Landmarks by the government, and two watch towers. The DOT expressed appreciation for Rifai’s return visit to the country.

Rifai met with select Cabinet secretaries, businessmen and officials of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines where he shared the importance of tourism in economic recovery and the vital roles that government, businesses, and civil-society play in tourism development. The UNWTO chief proceeds to Tacloban City, Leyte, on Saturday to confer with officials of other UN organizations, local government units and the private sector on the proposed recovery plan for the province that was severely damaged by Supertyphoon Yolanda.

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