Philippine News - Alona Beach, Bohol

Tourism down across the Visayas, but ‘Voluntourism’ on the rise in Tacloban

Cebu – Officials in Sta. Fe town in Bantayan have reported that tourist numbers have fallen during the Holy Week, compared to previous years, in the wake of damage caused by super typhoon Yolanda.

Despite the good weather, Sta. Fe Mayor Jose Esgana estimated that tourist numbers were down this week by 30 to 35%. The town, he said, had around 350 rooms for visitors before Yolanda struck. However, less than 300 were currently available as repairs to some resorts were still ongoing.

Esgana said it would likely take 2 to 6 years before their tourist industry could fully recover, even with help from the National Government.

Bohol – More than 5 months after the devastating earthquake hit Bohol in October last year, the region has also suffered major reduction in tourist numbers.

Carmen Bohol Mayor Jun Turibio said recently that the number of visitors to the Chocolate Hills National Monument, a region hoping to be named as a World Heritage Site, has decreased by “almost 50 percent.”

Before the quake, we would get as many as 4,000 visitors a day, he said, but major aftershocks, as recent as February 21st, were discouraging tourists from returning.

However, Joshue Hinay, Bohol Island Tour Guides Association of the Philippines president said, from his point of view, the drop in tourism was more like 85%.

“For tourist guides like me, it’s at 85%. We don’t have much work now.” Hinay said.

However, church leaders have been making every effort to maintain the traditional Visita Iglesia (church visits), where pilgrims visit seven churches in the region during the Holy Week. Makeshift churches have been put up in front of the rubble of those churches destroyed by the quake, in order to welcome visitors.

Msgr. Jeffrey Malanog, Diocese of Tagbilaran vicar general, said the absence of church structures did not mean that people were unable to visit seven churches during the Holy Week.

Tacloban – In an ironic twist however, Leyte, the region most severely damaged by the series of natural disasters that afflicted the Visayas at the end of 2013, has actually seen a rise in visitor numbers!

Huge international sympathy in the wake of super typhoon Yolanda has created a new form of tourism, becoming known as “Voluntourism.”

“We have never had this much people from different countries coming in,” Tacloban City Vice Mayor Jerry Yaokasin said. “They are donating and at the same time, they are helping.”

Income from international humanitarian agencies and “disaster tourists” is helping Tacloban recover, not simply through their donations and volunteer work, but also by just being in the city and spending their money.

Flights to Tacloban are frequently full and much of the street traffic consists of rental cars used by the multitude of humanitarian groups that have based themselves in the city.

The regional tourism office, working in conjunction with a local travel company, has been quick to respond to the trend and promote the ‘Voluntourism’ idea. They are now offering tour packages that include a city tour and visits to local attractions, as well as the opportunity for volunteering work.

“We came up with the idea of harnessing the spirit of volunteerism from people so that when they come here, they will not only volunteer but they will also be able to enjoy the sights and attractions of our city and nearby municipalities,” said Antonio Cinco Jr., a consultant of the regional tourism office.

Hotels in the city are fully booked, with the humanitarian agencies having reserved many rooms for months in advance. 25 of the city’s 50 hotels have now reopened, and two new hotels have had to open early, in order to meet the demand.

“The hotel industry here is the first industry that helped revive the economy of Tacloban,” said businessman Oliver Cam, who owns Welcome Home Pensione.

The typhoon badly damaged the 108-room Leyte Park Resort Hotel, but it remained open for business throughout. After major rebuilding work, 73 rooms have now reopened.

“Most of our guests are from international humanitarian agencies,” said hotel operation manager Kester Cinco.

The regional tourism chief, Karen Tiopes, said that foreigners currently occupied around 60% of the 902 hotel rooms available in Tacloban.

Panay: Noisy neighbors in Boracay – In related news, party-going tourists on the holiday island of Boracay, were asked to keep the noise down on Good Friday.

The municipal government banned parties and loud noise on the island over Good Friday to give Catholics a chance to reflect on the significance of Holy Week.

“The policy has been enforced on Boracay for three years now,” said Vice Mayor Wilbec Gileto, owner of Club Paraw, one of the busiest bars on the island.

He pointed out that Good Friday is a “solemn day for Catholics that should be respected.”