The changing face of tourism in Ilocos Norte
LAOAG CITY—The cancellation of international flights from Chinese territories became a boon to this province, leading to a changing tourism landscape, from a casino town to one that is focused on family getaways and tourists looking to have a feel of the Ilocano lifestyle.
The Laoag International Airport used to service international flights from China and Taiwan which ferry passengers who mostly come to this city for rest and recreation and to play at the casino housed at the Fort Ilocandia Resort Hotel.
Flights to and from Hong Kong pulled out from Laoag at the height of the Manila hostage crisis last year where Hong Kong tourists were killed and injured.
Ronald Estabillo, Laoag airport manager, said only Air Macau carries international travelers to Laoag through its chartered flights that resumed in June. He said 17 Macau flights entered and left Laoag this month.
Domestic flights from Metro Manila, however, filled the gap with the entry of at least 300 tourists that make their way to Laoag every day through Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, records from the Department of Tourism showed.
Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos said Ilocos tourism suffered last year due to the international flights’ stoppage.
“The loss of profitable international flights has been a wake-up call for the province. We took a hardheaded look at the old casino-dependent model and, for the first time, developed a multifaceted, family-driven tourism of sand and wind sports adventure, heritage and ‘gastrotourism,’” she said.
The provincial government has been building facilities that service domestic and international tourism from rebranding the Museo Iloco, the province’s center for culture and heritage, as a food and retail outlet, and improving existing tourism facilities such as the Malacañang of the North and the Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center, now renamed Plaza del Norte.
A duty-free shop, which used to be located at the Fort Ilocandia resort, reopened in June and now has a new home at the Laoag airport.
A two-story food and retail joint has been completed beside the Museo Iloco and is now ready for occupancy while a tourism master plan is in the works with the establishment of a souvenir arcade that will showcase the world heritage structure Paoay Church in Paoay town.
“We seek to provide investors and tourists with the unique Ilocano lifestyle,” Marcos said.
She said domestic tourism during the summer season reflected an increase in hotel occupancy of about 300 percent.
Tourism officials are also sustaining marketing efforts to capture more tourist exchanges between Cebu and Camarines Sur, which both signed sisterhood agreements with Ilocos Norte.
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