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Mindanao tourism to thrive amid nCoV threat, execs say

DAVAO CITY –– Tourism officials in various areas of Mindanao expressed confidence the new coronavirus (nCoV) epidemic that’s gripping more than 20 countries will only have minimal impact on tourist arrivals this year.

The optimism is mainly based on the rising number of local tourists, and the minimal count of Chinese nationals compared to the total expected influx of visitors.

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In the Caraga region, where Siargao Island is located, the Department of Tourism (DOT) regional director Mary Jean A. Camarin said the Chinese segment of tourist influx into the region accounted for 28 percent of arrivals in 2018.

For Siargao Island, Chinese visitors constitute only five percent of the total number of tourists.

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The large bulk of tourists into Caraga are Europeans, Americans, and Australians; they constitute some 90 percent of tourist arrivals in Siargao, the DOT said.

Roel Catoto, a resort operator in Siargao, told the Inquirer by phone that so far the nCoV scare has not affected the island’s tourism.

“We can still see the same [number] of tourists, and maybe more these past few days. People still pack the party spaces at night and the island-hopping bookings are still up,” said Catoto, who rents motorcycles to tourists and co-owns the Payag Suites and Chef Justice Restaurant.

“Unlike Boracay, Siargao’s tourism fortunes were never dependent on Chinese visitors. Most of the tourists here come from Europe, Australia, and other parts of the world,” added Catoto.

Camarin has expected a spike in tourist arrivals in Siargao this year after it was ranked 8th among 20 places as the ‘Best Holiday Destinations for 2020’ by travel magazine Condé Nast (CN) Traveler last December.

She attributed the increase in arrivals in 2019 to Siargao emerging as the top choice among Asian readers of CN Traveler in a 2018 survey that ranked 30 best islands in the world outside of the United States.

Official data from DOT-Caraga showed a 33-percent increase in Siargao tourist arrivals in the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, from 89,084 to 118,351 domestic and foreign visitors.

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Siargao first captured the interest of visitors as a world-class surfing destination. Soon, tourists also discovered its beaches, lagoons, and coves.

In the Island Garden City of Samal, which banned tourists from nCoV-affected countries and territories, the hordes of local tourists have more than made up to the visitors it lost from China.

Samal public information officer Michael Anthony Homez said Chinese tourists only fill a small percentage in the island’s total visitors, which adds up to at least a million annually.

He disclosed that a week prior to the ban, only about 200 Chinese nationals went to Samal.

In Zamboanga City, city tourism officer Sarita Sebastian said “local tourists are growing in numbers,” especially those drawn into the city for organized events.

Sebastian cited the expected arrival of 4,000 visitors in February alone for the Mindanao Budget Officers Conference last February 5, and the convention of the Philippine Association of Local Government Accountants on February 26.

“However, we are very strict when it comes to tourists from Wuhan (City) and Hubei (a province in China). We have instituted precautionary measures and we hope local airports will also do some scanning and if needed, a quarantine,” Sebastian said.

In Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental tourism officer Jeffrey Saclot said the ban on travel to and from China and its special administrative regions of Hong Kong, and Macau does not affect the province’s tourism industry.

“Most of our tourists are locals,” Saclot said, adding that foreign visitors account for only five percent of tourist arrivals in the province./lzb

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TAGS: Mindanao, NcoV, Tourism
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