By MAR S ARGUELLES
LEGAZPI CITY: While CamSur, along with Naga City as its urban hub, continues to top the chart for distribution of tourist arrivals in Bicol, accounting for almost two-thirds of regional total as in the past, Albay proved to be the highest performing province in terms of last year's growth in tourist arrivals.
In a report of last year's tourist arrivals in Bicol prepared by the regional office of the Department of Tourism here, CamSur and Naga City combined accounted for a total of 2,491,159 tourists, domestic and foreign, but a growth rate of only 0.62% over the previous year's 2,475,820.
But Albay, which used to be the premier tourist drawer in Bicol with its iconic Mayon Volcano in the background, seems determined to regain its old glory by posting the highest growth rate among the six provinces in Bicol by leapfrogging to as much as 49%, from a total of 350,629 tourists, domestic and foreign, in 2011 to 523,832 in 2012.
Coming in second in terms of growth rate is Sorsogon province with 173,700 tourists registered in 2012 compared to 132,696 posted in 20111, or a growth rate of 31%, according to the comparative report on distribution of travelers to Bicol for the years 2011 and 2012 released by the Department of Tourism regional office here.
Trailing Sorsogon is CamNorte which came in third with 190,918 tourists registered in 2012 compared to previous year's 155,106, or a growth rate of 23%.
Albay credited its remarkable performance to high investment spending in tourism promotion and the holding of festivals.
Masbate registered a three percent increase with 176,700 arrivals.
Catanduanes, on the other hand, posted a growth rate of 1.04% or 128,229 tourists in 2012 over previous year's 126,913, the lowest in Bicol during that period.
Albay Gov Joey Salceda noted that the holding of regional, provincial, and local festivals in the 15 towns and three cities of the province significantly contributed to the robust tourism growth in Albay, with the City of Legazpi as its core destination.
Still, Camarines Sur and Naga took the lion's share of the tourism market, for both domestic and foreign tourists.
It cornered almost half a million foreign tourists (485,550 in 2012, or slightly lower than the 496,603 realized in 2011, the highest in Bicol many times over.
A tourism stakeholder based in Naga said that the city and CamSur need not rest on its laurels but instead do more in order to sustain its lead as the top destination in Bicol.
"We should not wait to wake up to realize that other provinces have overtaken us because we simply slid down," he warned, explaining that good performance by the other provinces should be welcome news, though it should not be at the expense of Camarines Sur and Naga slowing down.
This, while Albay upped its growth in foreign tourist arrivals from 138,373 in 2011 to 170,421 in 2012.
"Albay indeed is the fastest tourist destination in the region, almost doubling in domestic and 23% in foreign tourism, and it is just our first salvo as a 'united' people," Gov. Salceda averred.
For its tourism events, Albay offers to showcase historical and cultural festivals which include the monthlong Daragang Magayon provincial festival, Karangahan Festival, Ibalong Festival in this city, Tabak Festival in Tabaco City, Cagsawa Festival in Daraga town and Pulang Angui Fest in Polangui.
Other festivals even for small towns like Manito, Pioduran, and Jovellar were virtually upscaled in order to draw more tourists to the province.
Salceda saikd that the 49% tourism arrival growth for Albay last year was further bolstered by advertising collaterals published in magazines, newspapers, and aired in broadcast outlets and the social media.
Citing a survey of Cebu Pacific Airlines, Salceda said Magayon Festival had a 14.7% market share of top-of-mind among Philippine festivals, coming third to Sinulog Festival in Cebu and Bangus Festival in Pangasinan.
In the case of tourists visiting the Cagsawa ruins in Daraga town, total paying visitors reached 322,000 in 2012 vis-a-vis the over 550,000 tourists that went to Albay.
This means that more than three of every five tourists that landed in Albay went to Cagsawa, making it the most visited destination of the province.
The governor expects to sustain if not surpass the 2012 performance by way of aggressive foreign reintroduction and closer collaboration with key tourism stakeholders.
Salceda as chairperson of Bicol's Regional Development Council (RDC) said they are also set to launch the Albay-Masbate-Sorsogon (ALMASOR) tourism alliance, a package that would enhance the structural attractiveness of all three provinces in synergistic positioning and branch franchising.
He said he looks forward to the opening of the Southern Luzon International Airport (SLIA) in Daraga town, a growth kicker in the future.
The SLIA was originally targeted to open this year, but due to some glitches, its completion would be delayed by three more years, according to Salceda. – Bicol Mail