DOT takes steps to boost PHL profile as diving destination

September 10, 2018 - Comment

Caption: Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat tries out virtual-reality goggles showing images from Tubbataha Reef at the Dive Resort Travel Show Philippines on Saturday, at the Megatrade Hall, SM Megamall. The DOT is beefing up its promotions by offering niche market segments to attract more foreign divers to the Philippines. About P500 million were spent


Caption: Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat tries out virtual-reality goggles showing images from Tubbataha Reef at the Dive Resort Travel Show Philippines on Saturday, at the Megatrade Hall, SM Megamall. The DOT is beefing up its promotions by offering niche market segments to attract more foreign divers to the Philippines. About P500 million were spent by some 300,000 scuba divers in the Philippines last year. (Image courtesy DOT)

CLOSE to half a billion pesos in tourism receipts were earned by the country last year from scuba divers.

In an interview on the sidelines of the “Dive Resort Travel [DRT] Show” Philippines on Saturday, Undersecretary for Tourism Development Planning Benito C. Bengzon Jr. said, “We estimate about 5 percent of total foreign visitor arrivals engage in diving, whether as a primary activity or optional tour. Each diver on average spends from $1,500 to $2,000 during his stay in the country.”

Last year foreign tourists reached 6.6 million, of which 330,000 were estimated to have gone scuba diving.

The Department of  Tourism(DOT) admits that the numbers are still underwhelming considering the Philippines is acknowledged as the “center of the world’s biodiversity.” According to The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association, there are about 6 million active scuba divers in the world.

Diving is a “key product” in the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) for 2016-2022 and the DOT has made it a priority to attend key diving expositions in North America, Europe and Asia. The agency has honed in specifically on three key niche market segments, said Bengzon, to distinguish the Philippines from other Southeast Asian destinations: underwater photography, beginner’s diving and free diving.

While the Philippines has “strong brand equity,” and is quite popular abroad for its dive spots, the DOT official explained, “We still have to improve on safety protocols, for instance, ensuring there are enough hyperbaric chambers in the destinations and the connectivity. We want to bring them to the dive sites faster. So that even those with relatively short travel periods, can explore the remote areas.”

The Tourism and Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority has allocated about P200 million this year for the procurement of hyperbaric chambers and construction of their housing facilities. (See, “Marketing and product development account for largest chunk of DOT’s FY2019 budget,” in the BusinessMirror online, August 8, 2018.)

In a separate interview, scuba diver and professional underwater videographer Jan Acosta of Studio H20 Philippines echoed the same challenges to attracting more foreign divers to the country. “It’s the lack of infrastructure,” he averred. “For instance, if you want to go to Malapascua, you have to go to Cebu first, go by land to Bantayan Island before making the trip to Malapascua,” he noted.

For another, Tubbataha Reef, a premier dive spot off Palawan, is only available for three months in a year—from March to June. So divers will have to “pay the same rates” for alternative destinations like Malapascua during Tubbataha’s off season, which is about P125,000 for a six-day liveaboard package.

Despite some of these challenges, Acosta said the Philippines continues to attract a lot of foreign divers—“we are well-known worldwide,” who are willing to pay the same prices on dive packages offered by places like the Maldives.  “We offer competitive rates like other dive destinations,” he stressed.

He also said other dive destinations are now becoming popular, such as Danjugan Island in Negros Occidental, Southern Leyte, Subic and Batanes. These destinations were selling packages during the three-day DRT at the Megatrade Hall in SM Megamall over the weekend. The largest number of sellers, however, were still for Anilao, Batangas, due to its quick accessibility from Manila.

Acosta underscored the Philippines as an attractive place to learn scuba diving, with majority of dive instructors being Filipinos. “In other places like Thailand, for instance, there are no Thai dive instructors. Most of them are foreigners.”

On Saturday Tourism Secretary Bernadette Fatima Romulo Puyat visited the booths and tried out Studio H20’s virtual-reality goggles, which showed images from Tubbataha.

Speaking with reporters, she said the DOT will be “strengthening the Philippine Commission on Sports and Scuba Diving,” an attached agency, and “formulate policies to make sure all dive destinations are protected. Our overarching theme is sustainable tourism. And, of course, that goes with all marine resources.”

At the welcome dinner for DRT participants, Romulo Puyat said: “Our biodiverse waters mean that there is a site for all types of dives, and all types of marine life or species to see and check off your bucket list. We have it all—from the rarest and smallest critters to the largest pelagic fish, colorful reefs and many others. So whether you’re looking for a relaxing fun dive, honing your photography skills, doing technical or cave dives, or training to free dive, we invite you to take on our dives sites to get the best of both, rather, all worlds.”

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