ALMOST there but not quite. Maybe “not just yet” would probably best describe the island province of Guimaras as a major tourist destination.
When the country’s top tourist destination, the island of Boracay, was closed for six months last year for a major rehabilitation, Guimaras was billed as the next best thing to Boracay and rightly so; it is an island like Boracay, meaning it has almost white sand beaches and some promising dive spots.
And Guimaras has an advantage over Boracay – its proximity to “I Am Iloilo City” and the Iloilo International Airport. It is just 15 minutes from the city by pumpboat.
It has also what Boracay and the whole country does not have – the biggest and sweetest mangoes perhaps all over the world.
With just these two advantages alone, Guimaras could compete with Boracay and maybe even give it a run for its money.
Guimaras is also a favorite of mountain bikers and trail runners as it has areas suitable for these outdoor endurance sports. In fact, the island has been a regular venue for international and local competitions of these outdoor endurance sports.
The island is also home to the Guimaras State College (now university) which lately has attracted some politicians from “I Am Iloilo City” to pursue their dreams of higher learning.
It does seem that Guimaras has a lot going for it to be at par if not overtake Boracay as the country’s premier tourist’s destination.
But it never happened. So what went wrong along the way?
When Boracay was closed for rehabilitation a lot of tourists did go to Guimaras and it exposed the island’s inability to handle a huge influx of tourists and visitors. For one, there was a severe lack of facilities and accommodations and the existing ones are not well-equipped, with poorly trained staffs to handle international visitors.
Sure, the resorts are good enough for locals coming from “I Am Iloilo City” and probably backpackers, but not for more discerning international visitors.
And that is why Boracay and Panglao in Bohol are still top on the list and Guimaras way down there. Both these two have facilities, meaning accommodations and restaurants, for the lowly cash-strapped backpacker to the more discerning high-end tourists.
If that’s not enough, this happened (excerpts from the Oct. 4, 2019 issue of Panay News):
GUIMARAS A HARD SELL?
DOT seeks to reposition island after Iloilo Strait tragedy
After the capsizing of three motorboats that drowned 31 people in the Iloilo Strait, tourist arrivals in the island province of Guimaras dropped by 73 percent in August and September this year from arrivals recorded in the same months last year, data from the Guimaras Provincial Tourism Office showed.
The Department of Tourism Region 6 knows what it has to do: reassure tourists that it remains safe to cross the Iloilo Strait. But Director Helen Catalbas acknowledges there’s a lot to do.
“We will reposition Guimaras as a safe destination. We need to assure tourists that traveling to Guimaras is still safe. But we have to get the commitment of all stakeholders,” she said during yesterday’s inter-agency dialogue at a hotel here.
Stakeholders present included representatives from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), local government units of Guimaras, tour operators, resorts, hotels, and restaurants.
“In the minds of tourists, it’s not easy, it’s not safe to go to Guimaras anymore,” lamented Catalbas.
According to the Guimaras Provincial Tourism Office, 19,439 same-day tourists visited the island in August and 16,908 in September – significantly lower than the 49,295 visitors recorded in August 2018 and 31,856 tourists who came in September last year.
“What Guimaras is currently getting are independent or individual travelers, small groups. Gone are the big groups of tourists crossing the Iloilo Strait to visit the island in buses and vans,” said Catalbas.
Tourism has become one of the main economic drivers of Guimaras which boasts of export-quality sweet mangoes, beaches and dive sites.
“With a lot of events and conventions in Iloilo City, Guimaras has to be ready to accommodate tourists. Whether we admit it or not, whether we realize it or not, Guimaras is one of the attractions of Iloilo City. They (visitors) come here for events and they hope to cross to Guimaras which is only 15 minutes away,” said Catalbas.
One of the things that dialogue participants agreed yesterday was to modernize or improve motorboat services.
Catalbas also suggested that fast crafts and roll on, roll off (roro) ships make themselves available for charter trips of big groups going to Guimaras.
Ahay, Guimaras is not even there yet and now it’s a “hard sell.”
Perhaps a bridge would be the best solution as it answers a lot of these existing problems, and would further boost not only tourism but economic growth as well i.e. Mactan and Cebu; anybody who has been there would know what I’m talking about.
So, still wanting to go to Guimaras?
Of course, when the bridge is done or there are proper boats. In the meantime Moi will just go to Boracay. ([email protected]/PN)