Camarines Sur reshapes Bicol tourism

Time was when Bicol had nothing to offer in terms of tourism but Mt. Mayon, the majestic Albay icon known as the “World’s Most Perfect Cone”.

Gota Beach
Gota Beach

Today, a great number of destinations had been developed and emerging as global tourist magnets, among them the Camarines Sur Watersports Complex (CWC), a unique man-made watersports park designed for wakeboarding, wakeskating and waterskiing.

Data from the Regional Development Council (RDC) show that CWC, located within a vast property adjoining the provincial Capitol here attracts six out of every 10 tourists in Bicol and even emerged as the top tourist destination in the Philippines in 2009.

With it, Bicol’s tourism landscape has been reshaped, giving tourists additional attraction and space to move around when done with visiting Mt. Mayon.

It also moved Camarines Sur from being a poor province – whose name then would be mentioned only when Naga City held its yearly fiesta for Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the patroness of Bicolandia – to international recognition for coming up with a world-class tourist destination, the CWC.

The idea of establishing a major center for adventure sports was the brainchild of incumbent Governor Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte who first assumed office in 2004 when the province was just dust on the beaten path of development.

Camarines Sur was then ranked among the poorest provinces in the country, along with other provinces in the Bicol region.

Based on the 2003 Small Area Estimates data released by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), the poverty incidence in Camarines Sur reached an average of 60 percent.

Data from the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) regional offices show that in 2010, Camarines Sur overtook Metro Manila and Cebu as the top tourist destination in the country with 2.33 million domestic and foreign visitors. Increase in demand for flight tickets was also seen according to major airlines in the Philippines.

Metro Manila was second place with almost 2.3 million visitors and Cebu which has an international airport like Manila was third with 1.77 million.

Cebu used to be the number one destination in 2008 with 1.6 million visitors and Camarines Sur was then a distant placer with only 721,024 visitors after Metro Manila’s 1.35 million and Baguio City’s 814,975.

Camarines Sur started to dramatically improve its rank to the third top destination with 1.56 million visitors in 2009 three years after the opening of the CWC. Metro Manila was first with 1.9 million visitors and Cebu was second with 1.6 million visitors.

Since then, the province has made the leap with CWC earning the reputation as the largest wakeboarding facility in Asia.

It has a 6-point cable ski system and had been regular host for the past three years of the Cobra Ironman 70.3, the first in 2010, the first time the Philippines hosted this international triathlon event.

As icing on the cake, the top-rated TV series Survivor decided to shoot in Gota island off the coast of Caramoan for Survivor France at around the same time with the first Ironman event. From there, the province found itself in the thick of tourism development and there was no turning back.

And with the optimism expressed that Bicol would be able to achieve its goal of 1.5 million foreign tourist arrivals by 2016, the DOT said major contributions are expected from Camarines Sur, Albay and the Donsol, Sorsogon, the “Whale Shark Capital of the World”.

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