Bohol quake stuns Visayas tourism trade

Manila, Philippines - Tourism in Bohol is at a standstill following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked the tourist island and much of Central Visayas last Tuesday. But Department of Tourism (DOT) officials are optimistic the effects will only be short term.

Private tourism stakeholders yesterday said they expect numerous cancellations as the island recovers from the huge tremor that destroyed several heritage sites in Bohol and Cebu.

“Safety is very important in visiting tourist destinations,” said Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) president JP Cabalza.

Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) chief operating officer Domingo Ramon Enerio III remained optimistic that the earthquake’s effect on tourism may be for the short term.

“DOT expects minimal cancellations of hotel and resort bookings. We do not see this to remain a major hindrance in the medium to long term,” Enerio said.

“Despite the tragedy, we want visitors to continuously realize that the Philippines is still a fun place to visit because of the people, whose spirit cannot be broken by any national calamity,” he said.

“Tour operators and travel agencies doing Bohol and Cebu inbound tours will be greatly affected and will surely have decreased arrivals,” said Cabalza.

The PTTA is deeply saddened by the tragedy, but is confident that Bohol, as well as Cebu, will recover “hopefully, within the year or first quarter of 2014,” he said.

Jaypee Orculo, a staff at the Bohol Satellite Office of the Department of Tourism (DOT), said the main worry is the damage to heritage sites that include San Pedro Church in Loboc – Bohol’s second oldest church, the Immaculada Conception dela Virgen Maria in Baclayon that was built entirely with coral stones, and the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Luz in Loon that was reduced to rubble.

Orculo said that although some resorts and hotels have resumed operations in Panglao Island and Dauis town, the popular Loboc River Tour remains cancelled.

“The major roads of Loboc are severely damaged as well as the docking area for the Loboc River Cruise. It would take a while before Loboc can resume its river tour operations,” Orculo said.

Boy Calipusan, owner of the upscale Stefanie Grace Paradise Inn and Resort in Loboc, said they suffered minimal damage, but would take a while before the resort becomes fully operational.

“There is still no supply of water probably because of broken pipelines, but we have enough stored water,” said Calipusan, an engineer by profession.

Calipusan said they have advised some of their clients to reschedule their bookings to a later date.

“But if some tourists show up, we can still accommodate them,” said Calipusan.

Meanwhile, DOT spokesperson Benito Bengzon Jr. said a DOT team is now assessing the situation in Bohol and Cebu to look after the safety of the locals and visitors in the affected areas.

“We are coordinating with other government agencies to ensure that assistance is extended to the communities. We shall also meet with our partners to come up with a recovery plan,” Bengzon said.

Based on recent statistics from DOT-7 regional office, Bohol had 143,388 foreign arrivals for the first four months of 2013. Cebu welcomed over 844,794 foreign visitors during the same period.

“In terms of readiness to accept foreign tourists as well as Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions, both Bohol and Cebu, considered as premier tourist destinations in the country, are still very capable,” Cabalza said.