DOT region VIII
« How can we develop and promote an off-the beaten track region ? »
After our interviews with the tourism officers of different municipalities such as Pandan (Antique, Panay), Basey (Sohoton), Sagay (Negros), Donsol (Sorsogon), Oslob (Sorsogon), after our interview with the product development officer of the Bohol Provincial Tourism Office, and before our interview with the planning and research director of the national DOT, we wanted to meet the director of a regional tourism office. We chose the Eastern Visayas that includes Samar, Leyte and Biliran. Indeed, the Eastern Visayas is the least touristic region in the Philippines, with one of the highest poverty incidence, some political concerns and a major lack of infrastructure and effective transport networks. We thus wanted to understand how the regional DOT faced these regional issues and opportunities, and how it can promote this region, blessed with natural wonders.
Ms Tiopes, Director of the DOT Region VIII since 2005, showed us great passion and energy for her region. From the Department of Trade and Industry, to the provincial government of Leyte and the Philippine Information Agency, she has become an expert in public administration.
To give you a brief overview on the aim of the DOT, it “shall be the primary government agency charged with the responsibility to encourage, promote, and develop tourism as a major socio-economic activity to generate foreign currency and employment and to spread the benefits of tourism to both the private and public sector”. In practice, the regional DOT assists the different tourism stakeholders in their activities: municipal and provincial tourism offices, local communities and entrepreneurs such as private investors or NGOs. This socio-economic support takes the form of advises on business plans, product development collaboration with the different stakeholders, trainings and accreditation (mandatory for accommodation, transport operators, tour operators and seminar organizers).
Most of all, the regional DOT has a major role in promoting the Eastern Visayas, especially with such a destination of lack of visitors: to succeed, it helps designing brochures and other communication tools for the different destinations and tourism products, assists in the design of packages, organizes tourism fairs, participates to the national ones, and fosters the tri-media communication: paper, radio, TV. The aim is to give a fresh start to the Eastern Visayas, facing a bad image because of the past activities of the NPA and its lack of infrastructure, and to create a brand Eastern Visayas, the destination for natural wonders, offering different products than other regions of the Philippines.
Based on the actual tourism context, what is the vision of the regional DOT? Where does it want to bring the Eastern Visayas? Following the National Tourism Plan, the DOT Region VIII has designed its Regional Sectorial Tourism Plan 2012-2016. To give you an idea, in 2011, around 16,000 foreigners and 191,000 domestic tourists visited the Eastern Visayas for an average staying of 2 days and one night, which is rather poor for such a big region (Samar is the 3rd largest island in the Philippines). In 2016, the DOT is expecting to receive more than 38,000 foreigners and 485,000 domestic tourists for a staying period of 4 days and 3 nights. To reach these performances, it will place the Region VIII as an alternative region to Bicol and Central Visayas, by focusing on its natural wonders (caves, waterfalls and rivers). Since tourism is a real business, we should not be afraid to use business and marketing concepts: if we think about the products and both the actual and potential clients of the Eastern Visayas, this region will probably focus its promotional activities on adventurous tourists. An interesting characteristic of this kind of client’s profile is the appeal for social media: these adventurous visitors are generally using blogs, facebook and twitter as media to share their experiences. Thanks to them, we can know their opinions and practical details on the different products as the price or the “how to get there”, information we barely find on traditional media. Also, it promotes the destinations and makes people want to experience what they previously did.
For the past few years, adventure tourism experiences have been implemented with success: the Agas Agas zipline (the longest in the Philippines), the Sohoton Cave or the Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride, to name just a few. Other destinations the DOT can rely on are the numerous caving opportunities of Samar, the major waterfalls spread around the islands of Samar and Leyte, or the cultural tourism focusing on the history with the World War II and the massive American military bases. Just for you to know, when John F. Kennedy was an officer he was based in this region.
Therefore, the regional DOT has approved our observations on the strengths, issues and opportunities of Samar and Leyte. With the motivation of Ms Tiopes and her team, with a better support from the national DOT, and with the development of community-based tourism in the region strongly pushed by the local municipalities, communities and the regional DOT, the Eastern Visayas could soon become the new Eldorado for ecotourism in the Philippines.