UK issues travel advisory vs Mindanao, parts of Cebu
CEBU CITY–The United Kingdom has issued a travel advisory against going to southern part of the Philippines, including portions of Cebu province, due to “threat of terrorism.”
But local tourism stakeholders here were unfazed, saying Cebu had always been a safe place to visit and the government was in control of the situation.
In a warning issued on Oct. 24, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised its citizens against all travel to western and central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of terrorist activities and clashes between military and insurgent groups.
The FCO also warned against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao (excluding Camiguin, Dinagat and Siargao Islands) and to the south of Cebu province, up to and including the municipalities of Dalaguete and Badian, due to the threat of terrorism.
The government website also added that the terrorists were “likely to carry out attacks in the Philippines, including Manila.”
“Terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity to carry out attacks at anytime and anywhere in the country, including the places visited by foreigners, like airports shopping malls, public transport, and places of worship.” it added.
UK reminds its citizens to remain vigilant at all times and to report anything suspicious to local authorities
Alice Queblatin, president of the Cebu Association of Tour Operations Specialists (CATOS), said Cebu has consistently shown that it is a safe place to visit and that the government is in full control.
“Honestly, these advisories have been there before and visitors don’t ask about it anymore,” she said in a text message.
Provincial Tourism Officer Joselito Costas said they were closely monitoring 14 towns in the south.
So far, four towns have given feedback through their police, including Argao, Oslob, Samboan, and Alegria.
“The situation is normal and no tourist incident report at this time. We also have coordinated with CPPO (Cebu Provincial Police Office) for real-time updates,” he said.
Tourism in Central Visayas took a heavy blow early this year following several advisories issued by countries such as the United States, UK, Japan, and Korea in late 2016 as well as the firefight between government troops and members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group last April.
Tour operators were forced to suspend day tours to Bohol, risking losses of up to P800,000 a day while hotels and resorts saw a drop in occupancy as well as booking cancellations from foreign guests.
According to preliminary data from the DOT in Central Visayas (DOT-7), tourist arrivals in Central Visayas slipped by 3.02 percent between January and April this year most likely as an effect of the travel advisories issued by other countries as a response to terrorism threats in the Philippines.
Central Visayas welcomed 2,000,714 tourists in the first four months of 2017, down 3.02 percent compared to the 2,063,053 during the same period of last year.
Visitor arrivals usually peak during the first five months of the year, but events such as the encounter between government troops and members of the Abu Sayaff Group in Bohol as well as earlier issuances of travel advisories were seen to have slightly pulled down the numbers.
The tourism agency recorded 5.95 million arrivals in Central Visayas last year and targets an increase of five percent for 2017, which could have been higher if not for the events that happened during the first quarter of this year.
This time around, however, Queblatin said the local tourism industry is recovering and is becoming more resilient to these kinds of developments.
“The liberation of Marawi (from the Maute-Islamic State terror group) and the continuing coverage of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meetings ongoing in Bohol are positive signs that the security issue is addressed,” she said.
Edilberto Mendoza, CATOS past president, said this is a new challenge for Cebu and the rest of Central Visayas, but he is confident that stakeholders can get over this just like before.
“I actually anticipated this following the deaths of the Maute (members) in Marawi City. I just don’t know why the southern part of Cebu is included. Perhaps because there had been terrorist sightings before,” he said.
Mendoza called on the community to unite in prayer and to prove to the international community that Cebu is indeed a safe place to visit.
Carlo Suarez, president of the Hotels, Resorts, and Restaurants Association of Cebu (HRRAC), expressed his confidence in the Philippine National Police (PNP) to handle the situation.
He said travelers are assured that their safety and security are a priority, with or without a travel advisory.
“Our police and military forces continue to be vigilant and proactive in dealing with these threats to ensure that Cebu’s tourism continues to be safe for our local and foreign visitors at all times,” he said.
The DOT said in an earlier statement it was optimistic that the upward growth of the country’s international tourist arrivals, registered at 11.4 percent for the first quarter of 2017, will likely continue throughout the year as it anticipates over P600-billion in infrastructure investments alongside aggressive marketing efforts and heightened security all over the Philippines.
Despite challenges at the start of the year, Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Teo said the Philippines remains a perennial destination for tourists, with international arrivals breaching the million mark as early as February of this year.
“The Philippines is too enticing a destination to keep people away. With the government’s continued efforts yielding international investors’ confidence, people will still come,” Teo said. /je
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