South Cotabato tourism industry expecting a rebound

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 27 August) – Tourist arrivals in South Cotabato province dropped significantly this year due to the continuing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic but industry stakeholders remain hopeful of a rebound in the coming months.

MORNING CANVASS. Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, as photographed early morning Tuesday (11 August 2020), is a magnificent canvass for a stressed-out Pinoy who wants to take a break from the stress of COVID-19 scare. This hinterland municipality remains coronavirus-free and has carefully opened its tour business following minimum health standards. MindaNews photo by JULES L. BENITEZ

Argie Asaria, provincial tourism operations officer, said only a total of 192,223 domestic and foreign tourists visited the province as of the end of July, dropping by about 77 percent compared to the reported 829,000 visitors in the same period last year.

He said the arrivals were only recorded in the months of January, February and July as the local tourism industry almost went on total standstill from mid-March to June due to the implementation of heightened community quarantine measures.

Based on data gathered by the Provincial Tourism Office (PTO), 153,974 tourists, including 261 foreigners, joined day tours or visited tourism sites for at least a day.

A total of 38,131 domestic and 118 foreign tourists visited and stayed for a night or more in the area.

Asaria said each tourist could have spent at least P500 each while visiting local tourism sites and establishments or an income of around P96.1 million, a huge drop from the estimated PHP414.5 million generated in the same period in 2019.

“The decline has really affected the income of people and establishments within the tourism value chain, and the local government revenues as well,” he said in a media forum in Koronadal City on Wednesday.

He said this specifically affected hotels and resorts, transportation players, travel agencies, restaurants and even farmers.

Despite the situation, Asaria said the prospects remain bright for the province’s tourism industry amid the prevailing modified general community quarantine.

Since the provincial government allowed the limited reopening of tourism-related establishments last July 16, he said a total of 40 hotels, resorts and restaurants accredited with the Department of Tourism (DOT) have resumed their operations.

He said local tourism sites, among them the seven waterfalls and zipline in Lake Sebu town, have also reopened last Aug. 15.

Asaria said they were continually monitoring compliance of local tourism sites and establishments to the health protocols, specifically the 50-percent capacity ceiling, wearing of face masks and face shields and observance of safe physical distancing.

Their office, in coordination with the DOT and the Provincial Tourism Council of South Cotabato Inc. (PTC), has continued with the implementation of their regular programs and “post-pandemic” preparations, he said.

He said the PTO’s research, planning and development team already conducted workshops in the barangay level as part of the preparations for the reopening of other local tourism sites.

They also continued with the product development planning for the tourism circuits and coordinated with local government units for the implementation of the province’s tourism master plan, he said.

“Although we have a pandemic, our team did not stop providing promotional photos and videos of our tourism sites via Facebook and Instagram,” he said.

Asaria said they sustained their accreditation caravan to help more tourism establishments get accredited with the DOT.

He said they have set a series of enhancement trainings for local artisans, especially women from the Tboli tribe who are into embroidery, mat and basket weaving, among others.

“We invited top fashion designers to train them on how to level up their products,” he said.

Jovic Ferrer, PTC President, said they are currently meetings among their members to come up with activities that will benefit the tourism industry after the pandemic.

He said they were also linking up tourism workers who were displaced due to the crisis with establishments that have started preparing for another restart.

“Life goes on for every one of us. We have to do things together so that after the pandemic, which we hope happens soon, we can move on with our work,” he said. (MindaNews)