Palawan rejoices over river’s inclusion among ‘new wonders of nature’
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—Palaweños on Saturday greeted with fireworks the news that the Puerto Princesa Underground River had made it to the seven new natural wonders as voting came to halt early Friday.
While organizers said the list was “provisional” and may change by the time a final announcement is made in early 2012, Mayor Edward Hagedorn said they were confident that the Philippine’s entry will stay on the final seven list.
Hagedorn said they did not know what the underground river’s ranking was or the number of votes it garnered as these were not announced by the organizers but he was sure it was among the top performers in the Internet- and text-based voting.
“We are confident we are among the top performers judging alone from the impact of SMS (text) votes, which others did not have,” Hagedorn said.
Hagedorn said he has the number of SMS votes garnered by the Underground River but was not allowed to disclose it in accordance with the rules set by the New7Wonders Foundation, the private organization that launched the search.
The official proclamation will be done prior to the official presentation of the winners next year by the New7Wonders Foundation.
Already, the city government here is anticipating a major tourism boom in Puerto Princesa City and the province of Palawan.
“We are up to the challenge. We view the Underground River’s recognition as a perfect opportunity to again showcase our commitment to preserve our natural environment as our legacy to the whole world,” Hagedorn said.
City executives were planning to roll out a major celebratory event this coming week.
At the break of dawn Saturday, as soon as the Foundation’s website announced the provisional winners, fireworks were exploded around the city to signal the Underground River’s successful run in the final search.
Hundreds of students and government employees marched early Saturday morning from the Catholic Cathedral in downtown Puerto Princesa to the city coliseum to celebrate the event.
The entire selection process had taken three years and the voting was done in various phases. A late entry when the campaign kicked off in 2008, the Underground River managed to even top the cut of 77 entries, then moved on to be included among the final 24 candidates that competed for Internet and SMS votes during the entire year.
City executives said the anticipated increase in tourist arrivals as a result of the Underground River’s designation among the top seven new natural wonders of the world would be a “welcome problem.”
“This is a defining moment for Puerto Princesa. Tourism is going to be big and we will need to really plan this out so we can respond to the challenge,” Hagedorn said.
City tourism officer Rebecca Labit acknowledged that the city already has its hands full managing the rapid increase in tourist arrivals since the search began three years ago.
“From just around 600 visitors a day three years ago, now we’re accommodating sometimes as much as 1,500 visitors to the cave a day,” Labit said.
The construction of new hotels and tourist accommodation facilities is ongoing, as is the sprouting of new businesses in the downstream tourism sector such as restaurants and banking, boosted by the rapid growth in tourist arrivals.
“Tourism is our way to go. It shows that we were right all along to commit our leadership to the policy of environmental preservation and sustainable development,” Hagedorn said, referring to the city’s staunch stand against mining activities and it’s ban on controversial industries such as live fish trading.