MANILA -- With Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao's (ARMM) ongoing developments in sea and air connectivity, as well as the rich culture it can offer to international and domestic tourists, the Department of Tourism (DOT) is optimistic of the bright prospects for the southern region's tourism industry.

The DOT said it fully supports the region's tourism program, particularly the “Cradle of Islamic Philippines” in Tawi-Tawi.

DOT Assistant Secretary Eden Josephine David said she shares ARMM’s “vision of showcasing the authentic Filipino” in the backdrop of Muslim Mindanao, and uplift the livelihood of its people.

“With improved accessibility by sea and air connectivity via Zamboanga, we can help develop and turn the area into a major gateway and hub for cruise ships,” she added.

The official, who recently visited Tawi-Tawi, lauded ARMM local tourism department’s efforts under the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Vision 2025 and the Joint Tourism Development (JTD) Cluster in the development of the Philippine-EAGA (P-EAGA) Community-Based Eco-Tourism (CBET) Sites.

On behalf of DOT Secretary Wanda Teo, David assured support for Western Mindanao's tourism development projects in line with the DOT’s “Go South, Go Mindanao” campaign.

DOT-ARMM Secretary Ayesha Dilangalen said a tourism plan set to be launched this coming June is geared towards enticing hotel and restaurant operators to provide basic services to domestic tourists.

“We are pushing for community-based and sustainable eco-tourism because we want our locals to be involved, as well as benefit from the visitors’ experience here,” said Dilangalen.

The ARMM official is also vouching for the faith-tourism to flourish, particularly in Simunul Island, where the country’s first mosque was built by Sheikh Karimul Makhdum, a site frequented by pilgrims from nearby provinces and neighboring Malaysia.

Also known as a sacred site is the Bud Bongao, home to holy shrines and tombs of the datus and Sheikh Makhdum’s followers.

The Sama and the Tausug are known to climb to the peak to pray for healing and their children’s good health.

Tawi-Tawi’s emerging tourist destinations include Panampangan Island, which offers white sand beaches, palm and coconut trees and clear blue waters perfect for picnics, water sports adventures on its famous sandbar -- the longest in the country. (PNA)