Rody a tourist am­bas­sador – DOT exec

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By ROEL PAREÑO

ZAMBOANGA CITY — The De­part­ment of Tourism (DOT) re­mains un­fazed by the travel ad­vi­sories is­sued by for­eign em­bassies, say­ing the fre­quent vis­its of Pres­i­dent Duterte to the Zamboanga penin­sula have drawn in more tourists.

DOT re­gional di­rec­tor Fer­nando An­to­nio Blanco said Duterte’s war against il­le­gal drugs and crim­i­nals also re­in­forced the con­fi­dence of tourists to visit Western Min­danao.

Blanco said while the vis­its of Duterte were purely to show his support to the mil­i­tary and po­lice bat­tling the ter­ror­ist Abu Sayyaf, the vis­its have re­as­sured tourists.

“The Pres­i­dent him­self is in­di­rectly turn­ing into a tourist am­bas­sador wher­ever he goes,” Blanco said.

Blanco said the se­cu­rity prob­lem was just a per­cep­tion since this city and nearby towns and prov­inces re­mained safe and have be­come po­ten­tial tourist des­ti­na­tions.

“In fact, due to the re­lent­less drug war, the crime in­dex sharply dropped by 35 per­cent in the re­gion and the num­ber of tourists in­creased,” Blanco said.

He said the num­ber of Cau­casians con­tin­ued to in­crease amid the travel ad­vi­sories is­sued re­cently by the US and Aus­tralian govern­ment to their cit­i­zens to avoid ar­eas in cen­tral and south­ern Philip­pines due to in­creas­ing threats of kid­nap­ping by ex­trem­ist groups.

The US, Aus­tralia, Canada and Korea have is­sued travel ad­vi­sories fol­low­ing re­cent re­ports on the al­leged pres­ence of the Abu Sayyaf in Bo­hol.

“We have a very ca­pa­ble se­cu­rity forces to pro­tect our peo­ple… the re­cent op­er­a­tion in Bo­hol proves the govern­ment ef­forts to se­cure its peo­ple and the vis­i­tors against crim­i­nal group,” Blanco said.

Blanco en­cour­aged tourists to con­tinue vis­it­ing this side of the coun­try where sev­eral un­tapped tourist spots are just wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered.

He said aside from Sta. Cruz Is­land pink beach, named as one of the 21 best beaches in the world by National Geo­graphic, peo­ple re­cently dis­cov­ered the long­est un­der­ground river in Si­ayan, Zamboanga del Norte.

The DOT urged the Philip­pine National Po­lice (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philip­pines (AFP) to be cau­tious in giv­ing in­for­ma­tion to the in­ter­na­tional me­dia about the coun­try’s se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion.

Tourism Sec­re­tary Wanda Teo said for­eign­ers usu­ally get in­for­ma­tion on the coun­try’s se­cu­rity through brief­ings of law en­forcers to the in­ter­na­tional me­dia.

Teo said that she would dis­cuss the mat­ter with the PNP and AFP.

“The me­dia peo­ple from abroad usu­ally get the in­for­ma­tion from the mil­i­tary be­cause there is a report that the PNP confirms that there is a threat in Cen­tral Visayas,” Teo said.

Teo had met with tourism stake­hold­ers and travel agency own­ers Wednesday af­ter­noon to dis­cuss the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Cen­tral Visayas and how to ad­dress the can­cel­la­tion of book­ings.

In the meet­ing, Teo said that they have agreed to join more travel fairs abroad to pro­mote the Philip­pines, par­tic­u­larly Bo­hol and Cebu.

Teo said that the coun­try’s tourism in­dus­try is af­fected ev­ery time there are travel ad­vi­sories and if some­thing un­to­ward hap­pens to for­eign na­tion­als here.

Lawyer Ale­jan­dra Cle­mente, chair of Ra­jah Tours, said the govern­ment should man­age the re­lease of in­tel­li­gence re­ports.

“We need close mon­i­tor­ing of can­cel­la­tions in all mar­kets and in­quiries from travel agents abroad on the safety and se­cu­rity of tourists in the light of travel ad­vi­sories is­sued by coun­tries which are our ma­jor mar­kets,” she said.

Tourism in­dus­try lead­ers said 500 Ja­panese tourists re­cently can­celled their reser­va­tion in a five-star ho­tel in Cebu.

There is also a report that a Ger­man group had can­celled its ho­tel reser­va­tion for May but the Tourism Pro­mo­tion Board has yet to ver­ify this.

Teo ex­pressed con­fi­dence that the travel ad­vi­sories will be for­got­ten in due time.

She re­it­er­ated that the Philip­pines is a safe travel des­ti­na­tion for for­eign na­tion­als.

Pres­i­den­tial spokesman Ernesto Abella as­sured tourists that the Philip­pines re­mains a safe des­ti­na­tion despite the ad­vi­sories is­sued by the em­bassies.

“We un­der­stand the con­cern of for­eign gov­ern­ments over their na­tion­als. How­ever, we as­sure ev­ery­one that the Philip­pines re­mains a safe place to work, to con­duct busi­ness, or sim­ply to have fun,” Abella said.

“While we urge con­tin­ued mind­ful­ness of one’s sur­round­ings, it is still more fun in the Philip­pines,” he added.

Five Abu Sayyaf ban­dits, three sol­diers and a po­lice­man were killed after the lo­cal ter­ror­ist group at­tacked govern­ment troops in In­a­banga, Bo­hol on April 11.

Among those killed was Abu Sayyaf sub-com­man­der Mua­mar Askali alias “Abu Rami,” who was in­volved in the beheading of two Cana­di­ans and a Ger­man kid­nap vic­tim.

The at­tack came as the Philip­pines is pre­par­ing to host the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) Sum­mit and Re­lated Meet­ings next week.

While se­cu­rity forces have thwarted the at­tack in Bo­hol, for­eign gov­ern­ments is­sued warn­ings against trav­el­ing to Cen­tral Visayas, cit­ing the threat posed by Abu Sayyaf.

The ASEAN meet­ings in Bo­hol pushed through this week after de­fense of­fi­cials de­clared that the ter­ror­ist threat has been con­tained.

Abella said Sec­re­tary Teo is co­or­di­nat­ing with her coun­ter­parts in the re­gion to as­sure them that the Philip­pines re­mains a safe place. He said se­cu­rity around the western prov­ince of Palawan has also been strength­ened to pre­vent any un­to­ward in­ci­dent.

Mala­cañang pre­vi­ously said tourists’ in­ter­est in the Philip­pines “con­tin­ues to surge” despite the travel warn­ings.

The tourism de­part­ment aims to lure 6.5 mil­lion tourists this year.

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