Huge losses seen from SarBay fest postponement

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 6 May) – Organizers of the Sarangani Bay (SarBay) festival are expecting a multi-million peso losses in the private tourism sector as Mindanao’s biggest summer beach party in Glan, Sarangani province was cancelled to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Beach volleyball in Gumasa during SarBay Festival. File photo by Russel Delvo, Sarangani Information Office

April Marjorie Rudes, Sarangani provincial tourism officer, said the cancellation of the SarBay festival would be a big blow to the beach resorts and other private tourism stakeholders.

“We don’t want to sacrifice public health in this time of COVID-19 pandemic, that’s why the provincial government decided to cancel SarBay fest,” she told MindaNews on the phone.

Last year, the SarBay festival generated tourism receipts worth some P68 million, earned from resort accommodations, fair sales, food, environmental fees and transport services, Rudes noted.

The festival also usually employs 1,100 locals as extra resort workers, marshals, cleaners, security, food servers and event organizers during the three-day event, data from the provincial government showed.

The SarBay is held in the village of Gumasa, touted as the “Boracay of the South” due to its powdery white sand beaches. There are other white and black sand beaches in other parts of Glan, which has about two dozen resorts.

According to Rudes, at least 259 workers from Glan’s tourism sector have been affected by the temporary closure of its beaches to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the area.

Sarangani Gov. Steve Solon said the SarBay fest has been postponed as part of the province’s precautionary measure against COVID-19.

“As excited as we all are, the Sarangani provincial government and organizers prioritize your health and security. Our prayer is for everyone’s best and we can’t wait to see you all in 2021,” he said in a statement.

Glan, a bucolic town at least an hour away from this city by vehicle, is considered the top tourism destination in Sarangani, mainly due to its fine white sand beaches in Gumasa and nearby villages.

This year would have been the 13th edition of the SarBay fest, which was launched in 2006 during the term of then Governor Miguel Rene Dominguez. In 2017, it was cancelled due to security reasons following the siege staged by Islamic State-inspired Maute Group in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur.

Rhoa Wadingan, acting Glan tourism officer, earlier said this year’s SarBay fest is slated on May 28 to 31.

The SarBay fest has become the ultimate summer beach party scene in Mindanao, attracting tens of thousands of visitors. Night-long music by popular bands and water sports-related activities are among the main features of the festival.

Last year, at least 2.5 tons of wastes were collected from merrymakers during the SarBay festival themed “Neon Summer.”

Gumasa has become famous not only among domestic but also foreign tourists.

In February, Glan town banned the entry of Chinese nationals after four of their citizens sneaked as tourists, as a precautionary measure against COVID-19.

The four Chinese tourists were quarantined in isolation in Alabel, the capital of Sarangani, and were eventually released after testing negative for the highly contagious and deadly virus.

Rudes said that beach resorts in Glan will not be allowed to open even if the province will shift from enhanced community quarantine to general community quarantine, since leisure activities are still banned under the latter condition.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, Sarangani remained COVID-19 free, the Department of Health-Soccsksargen reported. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)