Sorsogon opens world-famous ‘whale shark interactions’ opportunities to tourists

By Mar Serrano

Photo: Olga Tsai/Unsplash

LEGAZPI CITY – The tourism industry in Sorsogon is optimistic it will rapidly recover from the economic slump after health authorities downgraded the Covid-19 alert status in the province to Level 2, which eased restrictions and allowed more business firms to open up.

Bobby Gigantone, Sorsogon provincial tourism office chief, said they have reopened the “butanding” or whale shark interaction in Donsol town following a multi-sectoral meeting on the setting up of guidelines and protocols that would ensure the safety of both tourists and locals.

Under Alert Level 2, indoor establishments are allowed a 50-percent capacity occupancy, while outdoor facilities may have a 70-percent capacity utilization.

The Donsol tourism industry has suffered huge economic losses due to the lockdowns after establishments were shut down and hundreds of workers were laid off.

The Donsol Tourism Office records show that the pre-pandemic edition of the Butanding Festival in 2019 generated a total of P448 million in gross revenues, shared as follows: P75 million went to the communities; P3.5 million to the local government unit; and the rest to tourism promotions and marketing. Records also showed there were 13,000 tourist arrivals in the same year.

“With the permanent and temporary closure of tourism establishments such as hotels, resorts and restaurants, hundreds of millions of pesos in revenue were lost and hundreds of workers lost their jobs,” Gigantone said.

The Donsol town’s whale shark interaction project is a collaborative undertaking among the LGU, the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines, a joint commitment for a sustainable and balanced eco-tourism program.

Sorsogon Gov. Francis Escudero, who now aspires to return to the Senate, said in a statement, that reopening the tourism sites would help the industry and community, particularly their workers to bounce back from the slump. He said theywill soon also open other tourist destinations including the Bulusan Natural Park.

In a separate phone interview, DOT Bicol regional director Herbie Aguas said the pandemic has hurt the tourism industry in the region for the past two years, with P10 billion in revenues already lost.

“It will take two to three years for the industry to gradually recover and for the government to pour in fiscal stimulus to assist in the recovery plan,” Aguas noted.

He also said the pandemic taught some industry stakeholders to find alternative sources of income such as engaging in agri-tourism. The Bicol Region has 16 farm-tourism sites presently, featuring agricultural products, research developments, farm exhibits, and farmers’ training.

Among the sites opened for tours are the Hibiscus Trekker’s Camp in Tigaon town, Inarihan Farm Resort in Naga City, LRV-Agri Science Farm in Calabanga, MikeLiz Integrated Farm also in Calabanga, Sonrisa Farm in Magarao, AO Techno Science Park @ OADP at the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture in Pili, all in Camarines Sur.

Likewise reopened famous agri-tourism resorts in Albay are the Aguas Farm in Sto. Domingo town, the Farmer’s Bounty Village, Elmiro De Shei Integrated Farm, and Solong Eco-Park and Tours, all in Camalig town; and Villa Miranda Farm and Resorts in Libon, Albay.

The DOT said also shared that other destinations which have started operation in the Bicol region are: the Balay Buhay sa Uma Bee Farm in Bulusan and Barcelona Agrihope Tourism Farm in Barcelona, in Sorsogon; the Casa Eduardo Agri-farm Resort in Claveria, and Uma Koinonia in Masbate City, Masbate; the JSMS Organic Farm and Agribusiness in Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte.