The northern towns of Catmon, Carmen and Sogod formally opened their tourism activities with Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia leading three separate events with a short visit and prayer at the San Guillermo Church in Catmon on Wednesday, December 9.
“It is with great pleasure that I now declare tourism in Catmon open,” Garcia told local stakeholders in a meeting held at the grounds of one of the oldest coral churches in Cebu.
In Carmen, Garcia met stakeholders at the 170-hectare Cebu Safari and Adventure Park in Barangay Corte to talk on their concerns before formally opening tourism in the area past 2 p.m.
At exactly 6:45 p.m., Garcia declared the official re-opening of tourism in Sogod together with the Cebu Provincial Tourism Task Force and stakeholders that were gathered at the opulent El Mar Beach Resort.
Considered an undiscovered gem, Catmon town, which is known for its “Budbod Kabog” and native chicken, boasts of 21 local delicacies and scenic beaches and mountain sites.
Provincial Board (PB) Member Andrei “Red” Duterte, chairman of the committee on tourism, said he was excited that finally the Provincial Tourism Task Force has reached the mid-western side of Cebu since the team started travelling around Cebu in August for the reopening of tourism in the province.
Duterte said Catmon is an “undiscovered gem” that has often been ignored by most Cebuanos.
“People may not know, Catmon for me is an undiscovered gem here in this part of Cebu. People from the city molabay ra diri’s Catmon not realizing nga daghan gyud kaayo diay ka mabuhat sa Catmon. They (tourists) have yet to discover the beautiful beaches and scenic mountain sites of Catmon,” he said.
Duterte revealed that Catmon actually offers the most number of local delicacies, 21 to be exact, in the fifth district and possibly the entire province. Aside from the budbod kabog and native chicken, Catmon has its local vinegar, native egg, bibingka (rice cake), torta and several others.
“Hopefully through these stakeholders meeting, ma-empower ang mga tourism stakeholders nga finally gyud naabli na ang turismo diri sa atong probinsya especially diri sa Catmon,” he said.
Revival of tourism, economy
Tourism is considered one of Cebu’s major economic drivers and for the past six months or so, since the start of the lockdown in March, thousands of Cebuanos lost their jobs and livelihoods ended as tourists stopped coming in.
The Province of Cebu through Garcia, however, decided early on that it will not cower in fear of Covid-19 and decided to slowly open its doors to local tourism.
Garcia issued Executive Order 20-A outlining the guidelines in the opening of tourism activities and establishments including the health protocols. In response, the PB passed an ordinance following the EO which includes a penal clause for violators.
“It’s our way of signaling not only to Cebu but the entire Philippines that tourism in Cebu is already open,” he said.
He said these measures will hopefully revive slowly the tourism economy in Catmon and bring back jobs and livelihoods for the people.
“EO 20-A ni Gov. Gwen is not meant to hinder you, it’s not meant to make life hard for you but it will serve as a guide kun unsaon nato pag-abli ang turismo and to ensure a safe and healthy experience to our visitors,” Duterte told stakeholders.
Members of the Provincial Tourism Task Force were all astounded and in awe at the world-class facility owned by the Lhuillier family of Cebu.
Carmen Mayor Carlo Villamor thanked the Lhuilliers for placing Carmen in the world map, saying that “truly this is a world-class facility in Carmen.”
Cebu Safari and Adventure Park Chief Operating Officer Eduard Loop said with the bill filed by 5th District Representative Duke Frasco declaring the wildlife and safari park as a tourist destination will surely help boost the economy of Carmen which is a third-class municipality.
Loop said that while the Province and the entire world are facing the most “challenging times” because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he hopes that in putting back the park in operation, “we can do our part in a small way.”
Strict health and safety measures are followed in the park. Garcia lauded this and said other establishments should follow.
At the entrance, guests are welcomed with a tumbler of a healthy juice drink aside from the regular temperature check. All facilities are placed with the recommended ultraviolet sterilization lamps as per EO 20-A.
Garcia, in her speech, expressed her amazement in visiting for the first time the wildlife and safari park that she asked all Cebuanos, especially those who think of going abroad just to experience other similar parks, to visit the Cebu Safari and Adventure Park in Carmen instead.
“Allow me really to express my amazement kay karon pa sad ko naabot diri, labing unang higayon niabot ko diri. Naay hagkanan? I am amazed. Mora kog nabalhin og first-world country. Nakaingon ko ni-a ba tas Pilipinas?” Garcia said.
“Mao na akong awhagon mga Sugbuanon ari gyud mo diri, magpanglingo-lingo mo. Kun di paman mo makaadto og laing nasud, gusto mo nga feeling nimo naa kas abroad, dali mo diri,” she added.
Garcia gave special mention to the Lhuilliers for their faith in the Cebuanos.
“Really the faith in the Cebuanos by Michel and Michael Lhuillier is so apparent here because they have invested so much just to come up with this kind of a safari adventure nga nahibawo ko this is second to none in the entire country. And we give the other safari adventures of more advanced countries stiff competition," the governor said.
Frasco said the Cebu Safari and Adventure Park is comparable to other parks in Singapore, Thailand and the United States of America.
Open tourism to neighbors
In Sogod, Garcia met with local stakeholders before declaring the opening of the town’s tourism industry.
She also announced of her plan to open Cebu’s tourism to neighboring provinces particularly within the Central Visayas region.
The governor said she will call a meeting with the Provincial Tourism Task Force to discuss the regulations that will be set for the entry of tourists. (Vanessa L. Almeda)