By JADE LOPEZ, Reporter
THE Department of Tourism (DoT) 5 is eyeing to tie up Bicol region’s eco-tourism attractions with that of Cebu’s adventure tourism packages in order to spur domestic and foreign arrivals in both destinations.
“Like Cebu, Bicol region is now being positioned as an adventure tourism destination. If we work on complementing the packages we offer here with those offered in Cebu then we can hit more arrivals,” said DoT 5 Director Maria “Nini” Ravanilla.
In a recent media familiarization tour to Bicol last week, hosted by the office of the Department of Tourism led by Tourism Secretary Ace Durano, Ravanilla told reporters that Bicol’s eco-tourism packages, especially the growing popularity of the whaleshark interaction in Donsol, Sorsogon, is drawing more tourists from Cebu to Sorsogon province.
“Some of these tourists, who are foreign backpackers, stay in Cebu and come to experience the whaleshark interaction,” she told reporters, adding that accessibility to Bicol is easier now with the direct Cebu-Legaspi flight of Cebu Pacific, which opened last February.
Whalesharks, also known as “butandings” by the locals, are found in the waters of Donsol Bay in Sorsogon. A number of these whalesharks were discovered by the Provincial Government of Sorsogon in 1998 where they found out that the area has become a breeding ground for these underwater species because of the high concentration of planktons in Donsol Bay.
Citings of whalesharks are also found in Taiwan and Austrilia, however, Ravanilla noted, “it is only in Donsol where they can interact with these ‘butandings’.”
Salvador Adrao Jr., general manager of Eco Donsol Travel and Tours, said his travel agency receives bookings of at least 10 persons a day, whose travel itinerary include whaleshark interaction.
“The bulk of foreigners from Cebu who come here for the whaleshark interaction are Japanese,” Adrao said.
Adrao echoed Ravanilla saying Cebu’s adventure tourism packages- island hopping, bird watching, diving, among others- sets a “balance” for backpackers who want to experience “a different kind of adventure with the whalesharks.”
“Not only do they see these ‘butandings’, they actually get to swim with them underwater,” Adrao described, where he added that apart from whaleshark interaction, Donsol also offers firefly watching.
Meanwhile, Ravanilla voiced with optimism the direct Cebu-Legaspi flight will usher in more foreign and domestic arrivals to Bicol region, which includes the provinces of Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate.
According to DoT-5 data, the region registered a 45.59 percent jump in total arrivals last 2008 compared to the previous year, or 1.31 million visitors. The bulk of these visitors are domestic tourists totaling 1.06 million people.