MANILA – The Department of Tourism (DOT) is preparing Antique, Northern Mindanao and Misamis Oriental as the next go-to diving sites to sustain the Philippines’ standing as the leading dive destination in the region.
Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco made the announcement during the 1st Philippine Tourism Dive Dialogue held at Fili Hotel in Cebu City on Sept. 14 and 15.
Discussions centered on marine environmental protection and conservation; dive niche products: free diving, scuba diving, black water (deep sea) diving, and underwater photography; domestic and international marketing campaign; safety, standards and accreditation of tourism-related enterprises for scuba diving; and investment opportunities.
The DOT, Frasco said, will push for the development of less known but equally beautiful diving sites to expand the dive tourism portfolio in the country, eventually spurring economic growth and provide livelihood opportunities for local residents.
Frasco revealed that through its infrastructure arm, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), procurement of hyperbaric chambers have started to ensure the safety of divers to further strengthen the dive industry in the country.
“While we continue to support our already well-known destinations, we want to be able to develop new destinations by ensuring that we have the proper infrastructure, government support and regulation,” Frasco said in her keynote address.
She explained that DOT wants to make sure that divers are safe, whether they are beginners, amateurs or professionals thus, the purchase of additional decompression chambers.
"I'm very pleased to inform you that procurement is now underway for delivery by 2024 for additional hyperbaric chambers for the following areas: Dumaguete, Boracay, Puerto Galera and Daanbantayan," Frasco said.
TIEZA has provided hyperbaric chambers in dive sites across the country to ensure that scuba divers will have access to affordable treatment for decompression sickness by removing excess nitrogen in the body through recompression.
The four operational hyperbaric chambers can be found in Mabini, Batangas; Panglao, Bohol; Mandaue, Cebu; and Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
Another goal of the DOT-led dive dialogue was to capture new tourist markets, specifically for diving.
“The focus of the Department of Tourism is to target various markets, whether that be families, solo travelers, luxe travelers, barkadas (groups of friends) and the like. And we have very specific programs that are targeted to various niche markets specifically for dive. We have dive enthusiasts from all over the world and many jurisdictions including North Asia, as well as Europe, to whom dive has been a very strong product for the Philippines,” she said.
The DOT will open up to new markets, especially in Europe and the Middle East, in collaboration with the Department of Transportation (DOTr) by mounting more flights.
Frasco said collaboration and coordination with concerned government agencies such as the Departments of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Transportation and Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are important to prepare the necessary infrastructure, policies and guidelines.
She underscored the importance of the two-day convergence of relevant national and local government agencies as well as the Department’s partners from the private sector to sustain the successes of the country’s dive tourism industry and in fulfillment of the directive of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. for the Philippines to attain a tourism industry that is “inclusive, where the benefits of tourism are felt far and wide across the countryside.”
The Philippines was awarded for the fifth straight year in a row as Asia’s Leading Dive Destination at the prestigious World Travel Awards (WTA) 2023.
Frasco said DOT is now nearly 80 percent of its projected targets in terms of tourism receipts for the end of the year.
In 2022, the dive industry contributed an estimated PHP37 billion in tourist receipts from international dive visitors, which constituted over 17.5 percent of the country’s entire tourism receipts last year.
Asked why Cebu was chosen the site for the first dive dialogue, Frasco said Central Visayas is the country's premier dive tourist destination, as it is home to a multitude of world-class dive spots and is the most-visited destination among overnight regional travelers.
DOTr Undersecretary Elmer Francisco Sarmiento said the dive dialogue enabled government agencies and even the private sector to collaborate in promoting the Philippines as a world-class tourist destination.
"The DOTr conveys its full support for this initiative and commits to contributing in the achievement of this goal, especially with the presence of our maritime agencies," he said in his speech.
Sarmiento assured the Maritime Industry Authority will implement policies to ensure the safety of vessels, particularly the regulation of boats used for diving and other water activities.
The Philippine Coast Guard, on the other hand, will expand its presence along Philippine waters through its ongoing modernization program to bolster maritime safety and security, environmental protection, search and rescue capability, and law enforcement.
"Generally, the principle of Blue Economy will guide this Department’s maritime sector in implementing priority projects that will capitalize on the archipelagic features of our country. This also includes continuous development and upgrades of seaports to promote connectivity between islands and make even the most remote areas accessible and welcoming to stakeholders and of course, tourists from all over the world," he said.
DILG Assistant Secretary Lilian de Leon said they will be a partner in further advancing the sustainability of marine wildlife tourism spots.
The DILG has collaborated with the DOT, Department of Agriculture, and DENR on the rules and regulations governing the conduct of marine wildlife tourism interactions in the Philippines.
"In consideration of the biological diversity of the Philippines and increasing domestic and international tourism, the government saw the necessity of enhancing dive tourism and wildlife interaction by providing a proper responsive regulatory framework that will ensure sustainability and prevent compromising the safety of communities, tour operators, and tourists," de Leon said.
She added through the DILG’s supervisory function, "we continue to monitor, oversee, and provide guidance to our local government units in managing and patrolling tourism activities and development in marine wildlife interaction sites to ensure the enforcement of all rules and regulations." (PR)