CEBU CITY, Philippines—In a bid to further expand development of the country’s dive tourism industry, the Department of Tourism (DOT) successfully mounted a nationwide convergence of hundreds of participants from the public and private sectors and the academe to tackle challenges and gain insights from industry experts and stakeholders for the inaugural Philippine Tourism Dive Dialogue (PTDD).
The event, held at the Fili Hotel at Nustar Cebu, featured important panel discussions that centered on Marine Environmental Protection and Conservation; Dive Niche Products: Free Diving, Scuba Diving, Black Water Diving, and Underwater Photography; Philippine Dive: Domestic/International Marketing Campaign; Safety, Standards, and Accreditation of Tourism-related Enterprises (TREs) for Scuba Diving; and Investment Opportunities in the Dive Industry.
The dialogue comes on the heels of The Philippines’ fifth straight win as Asia’s Leading Dive Destination at the prestigious World Travel Awards (WTA) 2023.
In an address, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco emphasized the importance of the two-day convergence of relevant national and local government agencies as well as the Department’s partners from the private sector in sustaining the successes of the country’s dive tourism industry and in fulfillment of the directive of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. for the Philippines to attain a tourism industry that is “inclusive, where the benefits of tourism are felt far and wide across the countryside.”
“The effort, therefore, requires the ability to listen, to understand the prevailing challenges that are present and require solutions that can only be reached with collaboration, convergence, and unity. That is why early on, in the Marcos administration, we, in the Department of Tourism, mandated the formation of the very first DOT Dive Committee,” Secretary Frasco said.
The DOT chief, a certified diver, sits as the chair of the Department’s Dive Committee which brings together the DOT and its attached agencies, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), and the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD) to support the needs of the dive industry and expand its current portfolio.
A revenue driver industry
The contribution of the dive industry to Philippine tourism was evident in 2022, with the country gaining an estimated PHP 37 billion in tourist receipts from international dive visitors, which constituted over 17.5 percent of the country’s entire tourism receipts last year.
According to the tourism chief, the hosting of the first-ever Dive Dialogue in Cebu is also fitting given Central Visayas’ status as the country’s premier dive tourist destination, as it is home to a multitude of world-class dive spots and is the most-visited destination among overnight regional travelers.
But while Central Visayas saw the inaugural Philippine Tourism Dive Dialogue, Secretary Frasco said that the event also puts the spotlight on many other key and emerging dive sites across the country.
“Hindi lang po yung Central Visayas ‘yung fini-feature natin today. We have also invited our stakeholders from all over the Philippines in the effort to expand the dive tourism portfolio of the Philippines,” Secretary Frasco explained in a media interview.
According to the Secretary, another goal of the DOT-led Dive Dialogue is to capture new tourist markets, specifically for diving.
“The focus of the Department of Tourism is to target various markets, whether that be families, solo travelers, luxe travelers, barkadas, and the like. And we have very specific programs that are targeted to various niche markets specifically for dive. We have dive enthusiasts from all over the world and many jurisdictions including North Asia, as well as Europe, to whom dive has been a very strong product for the Philippines. We fully intend to capitalize on that and open up to new markets, especially in Europe in the Middle East by making sure that we can collaborate with the Department of Transportation to mount more flights coming into the country from these jurisdictions,” she added.
To bolster the local dive industry, the DOT, through its infrastructure arm, Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), has provided hyperbaric chambers in dive sites across the country to ensure that scuba divers will have access to affordable treatment for decompression sickness.
The four operational hyperbaric chambers can be found in Mabini, Batangas; Panglao, Bohol; Mandaue, Cebu; and Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Additional hyperbaric chambers will be placed in Dumaguete, Boracay, Puerto Galera, and Daanbantayan Island, according to the Secretary.
Other officials and guests present during the inaugural PTDD are Undersecretary and Con-current Regional Director for DOT-7 Shahlimar Hofer Tamano, Department of Transportation (DOTr) Undersecretary Elmer Francisco Sarmiento, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Assistant Secretary Gilbert Gonzales, and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Assistant Secretary Lillian de Leon.
Also in attendance are Lone District of Antique Representative Antonio B. Legarda, Jr.; Cebu Provincial Government Board Member Andrei Duterte; Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Vice Admiral Robert Patrimonio and Commodore Agapito Bibat; Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) 7 Regional Director Emmanuel Carpio; and local mayors from the Visayas and Mindanao regions.
A preview of Cebu’s culture, gastronomy
Meanwhile, participants of the first-ever Philippine Tourism Dive Dialogue got a preview of Cebu’s rich culture and heritage, and a taste of the province’s best delicacies at the welcome dinner hosted by Governor Gwen Garcia represented by Vice Governor Hilario Davide III for the delegates on Thursday (Sept. 14).
The dinner, held at the iconic Cebu Provincial Capitol was also made special by the performances of Cebuano cultural dancers who performed at the recently concluded Pasigarbo Sa Sugbo, the province’s largest festival competition among its municipalities and cities.
Translating Love into Action
On the second day of the Dive Dialogue, Secretary Frasco led a coastal cleanup activity at the beachfront of the Mactan Shrine in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu.
Speaking before divers, local officials, representatives from various national government agencies, and tourism stakeholders, Secretary Frasco emphasized the importance of “actualizing love” for the Philippines by doing small acts that would make a huge impact on the generations ahead.
“It is only right that the highlight of our very first Philippine Tourism Dive Dialogue is to actualize this love by protecting that which we love, our marine resources,” the Tourism Chief said.
“Through this coastal cleanup today, we perpetuate not only the culture of conservation but also the culture of tourism, for conservation and tourism must go hand in hand if we are to preserve our beautiful and natural resources for the long run. Millions of lives depend upon our protection of the environment and our perpetuation of sustainable tourism. That is why any small act, including the picking up of debris from the coast, the underwater seas, does matter,” she emphasized.
Secretary Frasco likewise wished for the protection of the environment, especially among tourists, to sustain the country’s natural environment in the long run.
“It is my sincere hope that through our coming together—speaking, collaborating, finding solutions, and deepening our care for our coastal and underwater resources—through these acts, we would be able to begin opening up the minds of our fellow Filipinos as well as our tourists towards the imperative necessity of protecting and preserving our natural environment for now and for the future generations,” she said.
In attendance during the coastal cleanup event were Mayor Junard “Ahong” Chan, Congresswoman Ma. Cynthia “Cindi” King Chan, and DENR provincial representative Cleo Colis.