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By: Vanessa Almeda | Published Tuesday, June 9, 2020
The Cebu Provincial Government is taking the lead in reviving Cebu’s tourism industry as it moves forward amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. (Junjie Mendoza)

The Province of Cebu is taking the lead in reviving Cebu’s tourism industry amidst the ongoing pandemic.

In a move meant to create a “loud signal” that Cebu is moving forward amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia visited Malapascua Island, Cebu’s “jewel of the north”, on Friday, June 5.

“Mao nang nagkuyog gyud mi ni (Department of Tourism) RD Shahlimar Tamano alang sa pagdala og loud signal to all nga maningkamot gyud ta nga buhion nato og balik ang turismo,” Garcia said during her regular “Ang Probinsyana” livestream report held for the first time outside of the Capitol.

The governor was joined by Tamano, Daanbantayan Mayor Sun Shimura, Provincial Board member Kerrie Keane Shimura, Police Provincial Director Roderick Mariano, Logon Barangay Captain Lemuel Daño and the business sector. 

“Ug mao na ang akong giangkon karon nga dako kaayo nga tulumanon, pagtabang, dili lang gani niining Isla sa Malapascua, lakip na ang uban natong mga lungsod nga turismo maoy main source of livelihood,” Garcia said.

Other popular tourism sites in Cebu province include Olsob, Badian, Alegria, Bantayan, Camotes Island and Moalboal.

Garcia assured that she, with the help of Tamano and the Department of Tourism (DOT), will help in reviving the industry which was the first to get hit when the pandemic struck in January this year.

Cebu, which accounts for 80 percent of the tourism arrivals in Central Visayas, took the hardest with several hotels and resorts closing temporarily as international and local arrivals came to a halt.

Tourism is considered Cebu’s main economic driver with a diverse offering of tourism activities in the island like whale-watching, canyoneering, diving, hiking, island-hopping, among others. 

DOT 7 said Cebu contributed at least P97 billion in the country’s economy with the arrival of 5 million domestic and 4 million international tourists. 

“Daghan kaayong panginabuhi ang naapektuhan niini (pandemic). Ang atong mga kaigsuonan nga kanhi nagtrabo sa mga resorts, karon walay mga trabaho,” Garcia said.

“Kani sila tanan, ayaw mo kabalaka. Kamo nga nagtan-aw kanako karon, kamo nga nangaapektuhan, kabaw ko unsa kapaet ug kalisud ang inyong giagian. Maningkamot ta kay magtinabangay man ta,” she further assured. 

Business sector’s optimism

Garcia praised the business sector in Malapascua for believing that the tourism industry will still recover. 

“Ang atong mga investors, kani sila nga nia, nag-antus apan wala mobiya nia gihapon kay nituo sila nga mahimo gihapon ning bangunon,” the governor said.

Lee Gallant, president of the Malapascua Business Association, said they have come up with plans for when they can re-open including coming up with a video that will showcase the island.

“It’s difficult. I guess we are all trying to keep a little bit busy. We are trying to make plans for when we can re-open, and how can we get better and improve,” he said. 

He said there are about three stranded tourists in the island which somehow helped in paying for the remaining workers who are still employed and taking care of the guests. 

“It helps that we can still pay some salaries and still support some staff. We’ve been trying to do food giveaways for our staff every 15 days (or) every 15th and end of the month,” he said.

Fabienne Wyss, a resident of Malapascua for 18 years now who also runs a business in the area, is grateful for the support of the local government officials.

“In general, we are lucky we have a lot of support from the mayor, from the barangay. I would say in Malapascua, the people are still positive, still a good vibe until now,” Wyss said.

Italian Andrea Valeriani, who also happens to be a chef, said “we call this island home. So, we’d like to share everything we had in order to keep the island flow. We are very happy to be part of this small community and we are happy to call this home. We feel very safe also.”

Natural reboot

Gallant said the quarantine period brought by the pandemic has allowed for the island to breathe. Before the pandemic, Malapascua was hit by Typhoon Ursula in December 2019. Despite all this, the island’s business community is optimistic that the industry will recover.

“Well, they say that the greater the misery, the greater the happiness,” Garcia said, adding that seahorses have come back in the island.

“Turtles are also coming back for the first time around the island and lots of marine creatures are coming home,” Gallant said.

“So it’s really also time for a reboot. Maybe nature just wanted that we step back. Give it time to rejuvenate, to renew itself. Right now, this is now what we’re seeing in Malapascua, this beautiful island now even made more beautiful because there has been no activity. The water is very clear,” the governor said.

Gallant added that the island had a “chance to breathe over the last few months with no traffic. It just kind of opened up and now is the great time.” 

“With partners and businesses, we’re planning to do some own marketing to show the beauty of the island because it is really showing itself now,” he added.

Garcia expressed her gratitude for optimism the residents showed and for not giving up on the island. She assured that the provincial and municipal government units will assist in reviving Malapascua. (Vanessa L. Almeda)