MANILA, Philippines -- Ilocos Norte is seeking to bolster its reputation as a destination for sports tourism, not just in the north but throughout the entire country.
Over the past few months, the province has established itself as a safe haven for teams to train during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More and more teams -- be it professional or amateur -- are eyeing the province as the location of their "bubbles" while their usual practice venues in Metro Manila remain closed.
PBA teams TNT Tropang GIGA and Meralco are currently holding their training camps in the capital city of Laoag, where they can hold scrimmages at the Laoag Centennial Arena. Meanwhile, the men and women's national beach volleyball teams have been in camp at the Villa Del Mar in Saud beach in Pagudpud for almost a month now.
"Itong bubble naging opportunity nga, na medyo malayo nga kami, but it's also very safe, and the facilities are quality naman. And in a way, we capitalized on that. It would be worth their trip," said Ilocos Norte Governor Matthew Manotoc during his first ever appearance on the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday.
The Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) is satisfied with the stay of the beach volleyball teams, so much that association president Ramon "Tats" Suzara plans to send the men and women's indoor teams to the province as well for a separate training camp starting June 15.
Others are set to follow as well, according to Manotoc.
"Hopefully, we can welcome more. We are a safe and comfortable destination," he assured.
"We want to establish Ilocos Norte as the sports tourism capital of the north. If there's anyone interested and we have the facilities, I'm all for it. My real passion is sports," he added.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ilocos Norte had already hosted the training of national teams for their preparation for international meets. The canoe-kayak squad trained at the Paoay Lake for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, for instance.
When COVID-19 cases surged last year, sports continued in the province.
"We hosted three stages of the Ilocos Cycling Tour all during the COVID-19 pandemic. No untoward incidents happened," said Manotoc, who said that some 800 people participated in the last stage of the tour.
"I've been a firm supporter of resuming sports kahit may COVID. Sa akin it's as important as education," he stressed. "I have been lobbying for face-to-face classes and I also lobby for some sort of sports activities for every person kasi kailangan na kailangan natin ito."
Manotoc is confident that the province can also be a training haven for water sports, such as surfing, thanks to its vast beaches and lakes. He also welcomes the hosting of future international meets such as the Asian Beach Games in the future.
"So long as we can fulfill our responsibilities and requirements, because we know sports tourism is very crucial," he said.