MAMBAJAO, Camiguin Island—For most provinces, a new airport spells more flights and higher visitor arrivals that would boost the tourism industry in their respective areas.
But in the case of Region 10, or Northern Mindanao, the much-heralded new Laguindingan International Airport in Misamis Oriental may have cost it at least 7 percent in visitor arrivals in 2013.
This was the assessment of Catalino Chan III, regional director for Northern Mindanao of the Department of Tourism. In an interview over the weekend during Camiguin’s Panaad Festival 2014, he said “there was decrease by 7 percent in visitors last year due to the decrease in flights [at the Laguindingan Airport].”
“Partial data” from the region, which covers the provinces of Bukidnon, Camiguin, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental and Misamis Occidental indicated an 11-percent drop in visitors in 2013 to 1.32 million, from 2012’s 1.48 million. Foreigners accounted for some 4.11 percent of total visitor arrivals in the region in 2012. Most visitors to Northern Mindanao attend conventions, seminars and conferences.
Unlike the old Lumbia airport in Cagayan de Oro, the new Laguindingan Airport has no night landing facilities like runway lights, navigational equipment and a control tower. According to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap), daily flights to Laguindingan have dropped to 17 (Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific) compared to 28 to 32 daily flights at the old Lumbia airport, which was night-rated.
The good news, though, according to Chan, is that visitor arrivals in Camiguin —Region 10’s most popular tourism destination—are likely to rise by 10 percent to 15 percent in 2014, with new daily flights from Manila via Cebu.
During the Holy Week, Cebu Pacific had an almost full passenger load on its ATR 72-500, with foreign visitors —mostly Europeans, Americans and some South Koreans—accounting for nearly 10 percent of the passengers.
Camiguin is famous for its Lanzones Festival, which happens every October; the still active Mount Hibok-Hibok, which attracts mountaineers; a variety of hot and cold springs, Spanish-era heritage homes and church ruins, the Sunken Cemetery, the C-shaped White Island, and snorkeling/scuba diving off Mantigue Island.
In an interview with select reporters, Candice Borromeo-Dael, provincial tourism officer of Camiguin, said they are targetting some 500,000 visitors in 2014.
Last year Camiguin registered only 400,000 visitors due to weather disturbances that hit the province. Foreign tourists coming mostly from Europe accounted for some 10 percent of total visitor arrivals, she said.
Curiously, Dael said many of their foreign visitors don’t want to promote the province even to their friends. “When we ask them to tell their friends about Camiguin, they say they want the island to remain a secret [so it doesn’t become overrun with tourists].”
Camiguin has been compared to the Boracay, which was also first “discovered” by Europeans. Unrelenting construction of new resorts on Boracay and the swelling of tourists, especially during the summer and Christmas breaks, have sent foreign and domestic tourists scurrying to find alternative beach destinations in the country.
Many foreigners have already found a home in Camiguin and are operating restaurants, bed and breakfasts, resorts and dive tours.
In March 2012, the UK’s Essential Travel Magazine named Camiguin’s White Island as the “best for tanning,” while Yahoo! News PH named the same as No. 1 of its Top 7 Philippine beaches for 2013.
Prior to the daily flights by Cebu Pacific, the island was reached via Cagayan de Oro (flight from Manila is an hour and 20 minutes), a five-hour land trip from the Languindingan Airport to the Balingoan port (used to be 2.5-3 hours from Lumbia), and a one-hour ferry ride to Benoni Port in Camiguin.
Other tourism destinations in Northern Mindanao include: the first Christian settlement in Bayug, Lanao del Norte, as well as the Maria Cristina Falls; the pineapple plantations and the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Bukidnon; Lake Duminagat and the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral in Misamis Occidental; and dolphin- and whale-shark watching, as well as the Divine Mercy Shrine in Misamis Oriental.
Source: Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo / Special to the BusinessMirror