GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 18 July) – Tourism stakeholders in South Cotabato are aggressively campaigning for the selection of the famed resort town of Lake Sebu as one of the country’s next mainstream tourist destinations.
Cesar Sulit Jr., South Cotabato tourism officer, said Thursday they are currently rallying residents of the province and the neighboring areas to cast their votes for Lake Sebu in the search for the country’s top 10 emerging tourism sites or Philippine Gems.
He said they are targeting to gather enough votes to help Lake Sebu clinch the top spot in the ongoing public online voting for the search, which is mainly backed by consulting firm Isla Lipana & Co. and the Department of Tourism (DOT).
Lake Sebu was among the 25 tourism sites earlier shortlisted for the Philippine Gems search, which mainly “aims to showcase the country’s good side to the world, especially the many pristine natural sceneries of our picturesque country.”
A screening committee coming from the DOT, University of the Philippines-Asian Institute of Tourism, travel bloggers and media personalities picked the 25 tourism sites out of the 50 that were initially considered for the search.
As of Thursday morning, Lake Sebu is already in second place in the top 10 ranking, a significant improvement from 15th place two weeks ago. Voting will end on July 24.
At the top spot is the Calaguas Group of Islands, which is located in the Pacific Ocean, off the coasts of Vinzons town in Camarines Norte.
Sulit said they earlier launched a massive awareness and promotion campaign regarding the search and Lake Sebu’s potentials of making it in the top 10.
“We’ve been distributing flyers and sending invitations to vote for Lake Sebu via Facebook,” he told a local radio station.
The official said they are currently focusing their campaign among students of local schools, colleges and universities as well clients of internet cafés.
In support of the campaign, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Region 12 has issued a memorandum circular enjoining local government units in the area to help gather more votes for Lake Sebu.
Josephine Leysa, DILG provincial director, said regional director Reynaldo Bungubung issued the memorandum in response to a letter-request from South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes.
“Topping this search will help draw more tourists to Lake Sebu and this will eventually benefit others areas in the region as well,” she said.
Lake Sebu town, which is famous for its three scenic natural lakes – Lahit (24 hectares), Seloton (48 hectares) and Sebu (354 hectares) – is one of the top tourism destinations of Region 12 or Southwestern Mindanao and was earlier identified as one of the region’s priority areas for tourism development.
Aside from the three lakes, the town hosts at least seven waterfalls, several natural springs and preserved cultural communities of the town’s T’boli tribe.
Philippine Gem search organizer Isla Lipana cited in its website that the 25 shortlisted sites were chosen based on the “wow factor” or that the site should be breathtakingly beautiful and its peace and order situation stable.
It said the readiness for tourist influx was not given much weight being one of the intentions of the project.
“When the 10 Philippine Gems are recognized, the local governments governing the sites should do something to be able to harness or maximize the publicity that they will be getting from the project,” it added.