JayR's trip to Puerto Princesa City & Palawan
HAGEDORN SEES BRIGHTER THINGS FOR PUERTO PRINCESA TOURISM
MANILA, August 9, 2004 (STAR) By Nikko Dizon And Evelyn Macairan - For Mayor Edward Hagedorn and the people of Puerto Princesa City, the Dos Palmas kidnapping in 2001 has become a fast-fading stigma. Three years after the controversial kidnap-for-ransom crisis, Hagedorn said they have not only overcome their tourism setback but have also strengthened monitoring and security measures to ensure that their hard work to promote their city as a tourist haven would not go to waste.
Hagedorn told reporters they have reinforced their barangays as their first line of defense against terrorists and criminals. "Ngayon mas pinalakas pa ang mga barangay tanod namin (We have now beefed up our barangay tanods). We told them to be alert for all suspicious-looking characters entering their barangays," he said.
Although there are Coast Guard members who patrol the city's shoreline, Hagedorn said Puerto Princesa is not entirely dependent on the national government for security. "We cannot rely on just the military. Marami nang problema ang national government at di na namin binubulabog (The national government already has many problems and we don't want to bother it)," he said. Instead, Hagedorn said, Puerto Princesa has its own Bantay Dagat whose members are well-trained and efficient enough to protect the city's shoreline. He said the city's efforts to maintain peace and order is an important facet in its thrust to lure local and foreign tourists back to their pristine city.
In 2001, the Dos Palmas siege reduced the number of tourists visiting Puerto Princesa to 40,000, but it soon picked up. This year, about 117,000 visitors have so far visited the city.
Hagedorn said the city's tourism, which "was in the red" in 2001, quickly recovered and posted an 80 percent increase in tourist arrivals the following year. This year, the city is targeting another 50 percent increase in tourist arrivals.
"In Palawan, the people's level of awareness is very high, (add to that) their commitment and participation in developing their communities. Everyone is working toward a common goal. It's where you see how man and nature can co-exist well," he said. The city continues to set higher goals this year, especially after a Korean travel and tours agency launched last month Philippine Airlines (PAL) chartered flights from South Korea to Puerto Princesa.
Silver Noh, president of No. 1 Tours, came up with the idea of chartered flights primarily targeting families. "Palawan has always been a favorite of Korean honeymooners. But families should also get to enjoy this wonderful place," Noh said. The chartered flights started last July 23 and will end on Aug. 17. And in all these flights, Noh said they have managed to fill up the 150-seat capacity of PAL's Airbus 320. Noh said vacationing Koreans always return home satisfied with their trip to Puerto Princesa and are never really bothered by the negative publicity. "We are not hiding it. This (issue) is not as important to us as it is to Filipinos because no Korean was taken hostage there, so it did not have a serious impact," he added. All the 48 rooms at the Dos Palmas Resort are reportedly often occupied. The resort and the two other big hotels in Puerto Princesa have a total of 1,000 rooms, said Ivan Lim, general manager of Dos Palmas Arreceffi Island Resort.
Apart from the chartered flights, Hagedorn said he has met with the Chinese ambassador for a joint tourism development program between Puerto Princesa and China.
With the expected influx of visitors, the city government is now drawing up plans to make the city more attractive to tourists.
From its usual annual budget of P20 million for tourism, it wants to double the allocation. "There is a need. The momentum is here," Hagedorn said.
The city has tied up with the premier architectural firm Palafox and Associates to draw up a masterplan for Puerto Princesa.
"There should always be good planning to accompany the development of a city," Hagedorn said.