The provincial capitol building of South Cotabato (File photo courtesy of the provincial government)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – South Cotabato province’s tourism industry continued to thrive in the first six months of the year as tourist arrivals increased by nearly 300 percent from last year despite the threats posed by the continuing coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

Richie Matunding, program assistant of the South Cotabato Arts, Culture Tourism and Museum unit, said Wednesday the province posted a total of 712,053 domestic and foreign visitors from January to June, rebounding from the record slump last year.

He said such figure is up by 296.59 percent from the 179,543 visitors recorded in the same period in 2020.

Matunding attributed the huge increase in tourist arrivals to the more relaxed Covid-19 restrictions implemented by local government units based on the guidelines set by the national Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“It allowed tourists to travel and visit various destinations and attractions but with strict adherence to the minimum health protocols, particularly on accommodation capacity,” he said in a report.

Matunding said Lake Sebu town, the province’s summer and eco-tourism capital, posted the most number of tourist arrivals with 256,814, followed by Norala with 148,243, Tupi with 132,210, Banga with 73,023, Koronadal City with 54,053, Tboli with 19,029, Surallah with 13,351, Tampakan with 9,202, Tantangan with 4,027, Polomolok with 1,770, and Sto. Nino with 213.

These were based on the number of visitors who visited for at least one day in various tourist destinations and stayed overnight in tourism establishments.

He said some 68 foreign visitors came to the province, comprising 23 from the United States, 20 from South Korea, seven from China, five from Australia, four each from India and Scotland, three from New Zealand, and one from Russia.

A total of 121,634 tourists visited in January, 146,325 in February, 166,727 in March, 177,865 in April, 63,212 in May, and 36,270 in June, he said.

The famed seven falls ecotourism site in Lake Sebu was the top tourist destination during the period, followed by the Strawberry and Guyabano or SG Farm, and the newly opened nature and farm resort in Sitio Glandang, Barangay Kablon, both in Tupi town.

The other popular attractions are the Necitas Lagoon in Norala, Sunrise Garden Lake Resort in Lake Sebu, Mambukal Hot Spring Resort in Koronadal City, Our Lady of Divine Mercy Shrine in Lake Sebu, Lantaw Garrido in Norala, The Dreamweavers Hill in Lake Sebu, Punta Isla Lake Resort in Lake Sebu, and RMM Zipline and Eco-Tourism Park in Koronadal City. (PNA)