BOUNCING BACK. Photo shows the skyscrapers at the IT Park in Barangays Apas and Lahug in Cebu City. The year 2022 has been a recovery time for the Cebuanos, displaying resilience and the ability to bounce back from the effect of the economic standstill brought about by the pandemic. (PNA photo contributed by Jun Nagac)

CEBU CITY – The year 2022 will be remembered as a rallying time for the Cebuanos who are bouncing back from the effect of the two-year economic standstill brought about by the pandemic and a typhoon in December 2021, scaling up the tourism industry and agriculture in the province.

Undersecretary Shalimar Tamano, concurrent director of the Department of Tourism in Central Visayas (DOT-7), said he saw an upward trend in the number of tourist arrival in the province, with some 1.8 million in the first nine months of 2022.

According to DOT’s partial report, the figure is up 175.32 percent from the 669,243 tourists during the same period in 2021.

The agency recorded 317,761 foreign tourist arrivals, an increase of 661.58 percent while it registered 1.5 million local tourists, an increase of more than 142 percent as against the same period of 2021.

The record showed that South Koreans remain to be Cebu’s top visitors with arrivals, followed by Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Britons, Germans, Canadians, Singaporeans, and the Emiratis.

In Central Visayas, the DOT recorded 2.2 million tourists in 2022, an increase of 159.61 percent from the 860,647 arrivals in 2021. Of the number, local tourists accounted to 1.9 million while foreigners at 334,668.

e-Travel system

With the upward trend of tourist arrivals not only in Cebu, but also in the neighboring provinces of Bohol, Negros Oriental and Siquijor, the tourism industry is counting on more visitor traffic with the introduction of the country’s e-Travel system, a streamlined digitized platform that makes it is more convenient for travelers to register.

DOT Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco said the system, a response to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s direction, supports the removal of the One Health Pass, a document required by travelers at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The system is the transition to the E-arrival Card and a full integration of the arrival and departure systems by the relevant government agencies.

“We are hopeful that with the continued collaboration between government agencies to improve the mechanisms of travel into and around the Philippines, we can encourage greater mobility and travel confidence and welcome an enhanced traveler experience,” Frasco said in a statement.

Apart from the digitization of tourism services, Cebu will also be among the provinces in the country that will benefit from the effort of the DOT to improve internet connectivity in 94 identified tourist destinations across the country.

Frasco emphasized the move as part of the DOT’s vision to fully digitize tourist transactions and integrate them into one system to further entice foreign and local tourists to go around the country seamlessly.

Frasco and Information and Communications Technology Secretary Ivan John Uy signed a memorandum of understanding to cement the partnership project that will look at the proper connectivity intervention per destination, installation of fiber optics or satellites, as well as the security of the equipment.

Visitors’ rest area

The province will also have a bright future for its tourist industry with the introduction of DOT’s flagship programs such as the Tourist Rest Areas, Philippine Experience caravan and Bisita, Be My Guest.

Frasco led the ceremonial signing of the memorandum of agreement for the Tourist Rest Area (TRA) in the City of Carcar, south of Cebu province.

Governor Gwendolyn Garcia manifested her full support for the project, which is also in response to the directive of President Marcos to improve the country’s tourism infrastructure and enhance the overall tourist experience.

“We proceeded to the other parts of the country and the world. One of the things that was asked of us was to put a rest area for tourists here in Carcar, which really is the gateway to the southeast and the southwest of Cebu,” she said.

The project, she said, is a fulfillment of the commitment of the Marcos administration “to enhance the entire tourism experience, to provide our tourists with not only the treat of arriving in the destination but also a comfortable and convenient journey along the way.”

The rest area in Carcar will feature the use of Filipino-centric materials and design elements while providing a roof for clean and decent restrooms.

There will also be a "pasalubong" center, a tourist information center and a comfortable place to rest for travelers in between their journeys.

Pinoy martial arts

Tamano said DOT will make Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) a highlight in every tourist destination.

As a culture that has grown in popularity not only in the Philippines but also internationally, FMA will have field exhibitions to draw a lot of attention from practitioners and enthusiasts from all over the world to visit Cebu.

Cebu is known as home to the famous Kali, Eskrima, and Arnis which have a variety of empty hand, rattan stick and bladed weapon techniques.

The late eskrimador Eulogio Cañete founded Doce Pares in 1932 in Cebu, along with a small group led by Eskrima Masters Lorenzo Saavedra and Teodoro Saavedra.

The late eskrimador Ciriaco “Cacoy” Cañete, a student of Eulogio and the Saavedras from Labangon, made the arts famous in the United States of America and other parts of the world.

‘Kadiwa’ for food

Meanwhile, farmers are now recovering after more than two years of having difficulties marketing their produce due to lockdowns and town-to-town border restrictions, after the Department of Agriculture (DA) successfully introduced in Cebu the Kadiwa Project of the Marcos administration.

Joel Elumba, DA-7 regional executive director, said the Kadiwa ng Pasko project gives local farmers the opportunities to market their produce and provide consumers an access to fresh and affordable agri-fishery products.

In the Kadiwa, the consumers can avail of a kilo of rice for only PHP25 from the National Food Authority stalls and a kilo of bangus (milkfish) at PHP140 from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

Other products like vegetables and fruits are also sold at lower prices.

Elumba said the Kadiwa has been institutionalized to feature the Kadiwa on Wheels and the Kadiwa Stores.

He said the Kadiwa sa Pasko on Dec. 12-13 at the DA-7 compound in Maguikay, Mandaue City was a success.

He said more of these farmers’ market activities will be organized to provide the agriculture sector a platform to market their farm products and sell them at a cheaper price.

The DA-7 also reported helping corn farmers in Cebu under the government’s fertilizer support program funded under the DA’s corn program through the fertilizer discount voucher scheme.

In this program, each qualified and listed beneficiary will receive a voucher with an equivalent amount of PHP2,000, which can be claimed at an accredited fertilizer merchant.

For the corn farmers to qualify, Elumba said they must be users of National Seed Industry Council-registered corn and cassava varieties, members of corn or cassava clusters, duly registered in the Registry System for Basic Sector in Agriculture and encoded in the National Famers' and Fishers' Registry System.

The beneficiaries will be extracted from the DA’s farmers’ information management system.

Positive outlook

Typhoon Odette devastated many towns and cities in Cebu province in December 2021 but the year 2022 saw positive economic growth in Central Visayas, which economists projected could have reached 7 percent if not for the calamity.

The Philippine Statistics Authority-Central Visayas said in its latest Provincial Product Accounts on Dec. 2, 2022, Cebu City posted the highest economic growth in Central Visayas at 6.9 percent for 2021 after its Gross City Domestic Product reached PHP266 billion.

This, despite the damage brought by Odette which destroyed PHP87 billion worth of physical assets, resulting in opportunity losses of around PHP97 billion, according to the report of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)-Central Visayas.

The NEDA-7 report said the region’s economy valued at PHP1.2 trillion remained the fourth largest in the country.

The three major sectors of the regional economy – service, agriculture, forestry and fishery, and industry – are expected to record expansions in 2023, as 2022 became a year for operational overhaul of various establishments while they, along with the consumers, were adjusting to the new normal.

Although the accommodation and food services, a tourism-allied industry, are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic and the onslaught of Odette, the wholesale and retail trade, as well as transportation industry's performance have registered an improvement.

The information and communication and professional and business service industries experienced the highest growth in 2021 aside from education, health and social work services.

The information technology-business process management companies are expected to sustain production capacity even surpassing pre-pandemic levels, a window for the industry to expand and generate more jobs. (PNA)