March 29, 2014

Travel Bites: Metro Naga eyes 20% hike in tourists by 2016 on higher infrastructure spend

METRO Naga is projecting a 20-percent growth in tourist arrivals over the next three years, as it positions itself as a premier destination in the Bicol region.

This developed as Naga City Mayor John Bongat told  the BusinessMirror he is looking to spend some P1 billion for tourism-related infrastructure projects over the medium term that would further boost the area’s chances of attracting more visitors.

“We will solicit support from national government sources,” he said of the proposed budget. Bongat was in Manila on Friday to launch Naga Excursions (Naga X), a tourism brand that pushes the exciting destinations of Metro Naga—composed of 16 local government units in the province of Camarines Sur, with Naga City as its anchor.

One of the most popular festivals in Bicol is the feast day of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, which features a fluvial procession. (Photo by Remate)
About P400 million to P600 million of the proposed infrastructure budget will be spent to rehabilitate the Naga River. “This is the site of the fluvial parade [during the Feast of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia], so we would like to help the river recover, construct a plaza and other gathering areas along its banks,” said Alec Francis Santos, chief of the Arts, Culture and Tourism Office of Naga City, the capital of Camarines Sur.

The rest of the P1-billion proposed budget would be for the repair and construction of roads, bridges, promenades and walkways.

In 2013, the national government allocated P52 million to build a city museum in Naga in memory of the late Interior and Secretary Jesse Robredo, Santos added.

He also said Bongat had recently written a letter to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya for help in upgrading the Naga City Airport, which is regularly flooded during the monsoon season. The mayor is also seeking Abaya’s support to raise the priority of return flights from Naga, so planes would be able to land on time in Manila.

According to the General Appropriations Act of 2013, the Department of Public Works and Highways is constructing some P338 million in tourism infrastructure projects in Camarines Sur this year. The projects are mainly for the upgrading and improvement of roads to specific tourism areas in the province.

“Metro Naga is now gearing up and positioning itself as the tourism hub for Region 5 [Bicol region],” said Bongat, who is also chairman of the Metro Naga Development Council (MNDC), which groups 16 local governments representing the municipalities of Bombon, Bula, Calabanga, Camaligan, Canaman, Gainza, Libmanan, Magarao, Milaor, Minalabac, Ocampo, Pamplona, San Fernando, Pili, Pasacao and Naga City. The MNDC is an initiative funded by the Canadian International Development Agency through the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

The group “seeks to bring about accelerated, equitable and sustainable growth and development by maximizing the resources of its members, following an integrated area development framework. Through local economic development, the MNDC seeks to strengthen the links between urban Naga City and its neighboring rural municipalities to widen the economic benefits derived from its phenomenal growth,” says its project web site.

“For a long time, tourists going to Camarines Sur stay in Metro Naga. So we’ve identified destinations that are ready for promotions, as well as others for tourism development,” said Santos.

Naga X is designed as a one-stop shop for tourists, offering a variety of “highly customizable” travel packages that cover accommodations, tours and other activities in key destinations in Metro Naga, connecting to other tourist sites in the other provinces in Camarines Sur. The province has 35 towns and two cities.

Caramoan is often called the Secret Paradise because of its distance from major urban cities or centers of commerce. It is a favorite location for the reality TV series, Survivor. (Photo from
The packages feature trips to nearby islands like Caramoan, the location for various Survivor series (Islands Excursions), churches like the Minor Basilica of the Virgin of Peñafrancia (Pilgrimage Excursions), cultural landmarks via walking tour of Centro Naga (Heritage Excursions), or a hike through the Mount  Isarog National Park (Highlands Excursions), among other places, with rates starting as low as P550 per person.

Basic inclusions in the package tours are ground handling (land and boat transfers), Department of Tourism (DOT) accredited tour guides and travel insurance.

“Naga X is also a consortium that groups local players in the tourism industry that includes hotels, transport providers, tour operators, restaurants, coffee shops, spas and allied services,” added Santos. All of the members cooperate in marketing Metro Naga, and are expected to adhere to strict standards for operations to make the tourist experience truly satisfying.

From 3.1 million tourists in 2010, tourists to the Bicol region have leaped by almost 20 percent to 3.7 million, according to DOT data. Of the total visitor arrivals in the region, Metro Naga/Camarines Sur accounted for 34 percent in 2010, steadily growing to 51 percent, or 1.9 million arrivals in 2012. Domestic travelers comprise the bulk of the visitor arrivals in Camarines Sur, while foreign tourists account for some 25 percent.

Bongat said the construction of the Camsur Watersports Complex  (CWC) in Pili has helped spur tourism in Metro Naga and the entire province.
Aside from the CWC, the annual festival celebrating the feast day of the Virgin of Peñafrancia plus meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) have helped attract more tourists to the province.

Santos added that tourism receipts generated in Metro Naga alone grew by 23.5 percent to P741 million in 2012 from P600 million in 2010.

The growth in tourist arrivals in Camarines Sur has encouraged more private-sector investments in the accommodations sector, he said. From only 22 hotels in 2000, with 551 rooms, there were 56 hotels with 1,609 rooms in Metro Naga as of the end of 2012, which included the Eurotel hotel chain. He also said some 200 more rooms will be added to the accommodations sector this year.

Metro Naga is easily accessible by land or air. PAL Express and Cebu Pacific  fly daily to Naga City. By land, which usually takes eight hours, tourists can take the bus via PhiltrancoPeñafrancia Tours or Isarog Line , Cagsawa Travel and Tours (T# 913-4514/0917-6063918)  and DLTB Co. 

(This piece was originally published in the BusinessMirror on June 3, 2013.)

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