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Sharks, Mayon, cable skis draw foreign tourists to Bicol
Source: Inquirer
Author: Delma L. Peyra
Date: 2006-11-16
LEGAZPI CITY -- Foreign tourist arrivals in the Bicol region rose by 67 percent from January to September this year, compared with the same period in 2005, due to the eruption of Mayon Volcano, whale shark watching and a newly-opened cable ski system in Camarines Sur.

Maria Ong-Ravanilla, regional director of the tourism department, said 38,565 foreigners visited Bicol from January to September this year. This number already surpassed the 29,959 who visited the region in the whole of 2005. Americans, South Koreans and the Japanese topped the list of visitors to the region composed of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Catanduanes, Sorsogon and Masbate.

Ravanilla credited the dramatic up-tick of foreign tourists to the continuing popularity of watching whale sharks, locally known as butandings, which are mostly found in Donsol town in Sorsogon, and the Mayon Volcano in Albay, which had its most recent eruption last June to August. Tour packages brought visitors to a good vantage point from which to view the eruption of the volcano famous for its near-perfect conical shape.

Ravanilla also noted the “remarkable” impact of the cable skis in Pili, Camarines Sur on the arrivals of foreign tourists.

In the third quarter (from July to September), tourists and devotees flocked to the Peñafrancia Festival, which went hand-in-hand with the Kagayonan Festival during the third week of September, she said. Naga City also hosted the Palarong Pambansa (National Games) this year, which added significantly to tourist arrivals.

Ravanilla said the counting of tourist arrivals is based on hotel bookings and occupancy. “There may be underreported tourist arrivals, especially among locals and balikbayans who opt to stay with friends and relatives, so the figures could even be higher than officially reported,” Ravanilla continued. In addition, she said, a lot of lodging houses that are not accredited do not report their bookings.

Total tourist arrivals, including domestic tourists, grew 12 percent to 457,461 for the first nine months of 2006.

The last quarter of the year, she said, will see another surge of tourist arrivals when overseas Filipino workers come home for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

For 2006, Ravanilla said the opening of the Camarines Sur Water Sports Complex in Pili town next to Naga City, in April 2006, attracted a surge of foreign visitors and sports enthusiasts. “It offers the best cable ski in Asia,” Ravanilla said.

The sports complex offers water activities such as knee boarding, cable-skiing, water skiing and wake-boarding. The complex covers six hectares with a man-made lake measuring 4.5 hectares.

“It is propped up by a six-point cable ski system from Germany,” according to Marife Maralit, supervising operations officer of the Camarines Sur Tourism Office. “It is the first in the Philippines and the biggest in Asia,” Maralit added.

The cable ski system is available the whole year round to visitors "unlike ocean or river-located water sports which have to contend with weather disturbances and currents,” Maralit explained.

Ravanilla said “the project is a joint effort of Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City and Camarines Sur Governor Luis Raymond Villafuerte.”

The Camarines Sur provincial government, according to Ravanilla, won the bidding, in Vienna, Austria, for rights to host the 2008 International Wake Boarding Competition.


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