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  Travel
Philippines Lures Tourists with Birds
To attract more affluent tourists to the Philippines, the Department of Tourism (DOT) is developing a tour package that will focus on bird watching.
Secretary Joseph Ace Durano of Philippine Tourism Department.

"We need a new market nga wala pa nato makuha (that we didn;t get) but will be an added attraction for the Philipines. Once we create the demand, then we can sustain our annual targets," said Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano on March 14.

Durano said the country can attract the bird-watching market, especially Europeans, who are among the fastest growing foreign visitors to the country today.

"In the United Kingdom, there are eight million bird watchers who travel all around the world to look for different bird species. If we get 10 percent of these tourists, not to mention (those of) other European countries, (we will have) more tourists from this market (segment)," he told a press conference, following the opening of the tourism job fair at SM City Cebu.

The Philippines, he said, has the "highest bird species diversity" in Asia, with more than 100 different species.

Olango Island, Lapu-Lapu City, where migratory birds are found during certain times of the year, is a main attraction among bird watchers.

When this "highly specialized" eco-tourism activity becomes fully utilized, Durano said the Philippines will become Asia’s main destination for bird watching, especially since there are no other countries in the Southeast Asian region competing for this package.

"We are developing it now,”"Durano said, adding that promotional efforts by DOT for this new tourism product began early this year in Germany.

He also revealed the creation of a special team in DOT to oversee the progress of this tourism product.

He said the DOT has so far spent about P5 million for the necessary organizational requirements of the project, such as documentations, training of tour guides and creation of manuals-—complete with pictures, description of the bird species and its location.

"There are no existing manual in the country about bird watching," Durano said.

He said the DOT also plans to link with travel agents and tour operators to promote the bird-watching activity so it can be included in their tour offerings.

But while Durano expressed optimism in bird watching as a "highly specialized package,"he admitted that the lack of tour guides and accommodation facilities, as well as accessibility of probable destinations, pose as major challenges.

To address the lack of tour guides, DOT is working with the Bird Watching Association of the Philippines (BWAP) to tap the group’s members. The DOT may even recruit biologists to become bird- watching specialists or guides.

It seems, there are more bird species than members (of BWAP), Durano said.

In a related interview, former Cebu Association of Tour Operators president Alice Queblatin said that while she agrees with Durano regarding the strong potential of the Philippines to attract local and foreign bird-watching enthusiasts, the major obstacle to the project is the lack of a "professional"investor who will run and manage a bird sanctuary.

She cited the Olango bird sanctuary, which, she said, was well monitored and organized by the Coastal Resource Management Project as a “community-based tourism project” up until 2006. However, in the last two years, sustainability in terms of the sanctuary’s management has slowly "deteriorated,"she told news reporters.

Durano stressed the need to preserve the environment, including the country’s wildlife, if the Philippines is to become an eco-tourism destination.

Durano was in Cebu on March 14 to lead the opening of the DOT-led "3rd Trabaho sa Turismo" fair at the SM City Cebu Trade Hall.

The two-day job fair involved 121 exhibitors from various tourism establishments like hotels, airline companies, manpower services, food establishments, travel agencies, tour operators and call centers, among others.

Over 4,000 applicants are expected to submit applications for about 2,000 job vacancies in the tourism industry, said Durano




 

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