SANTA ANA, Cagayan: Transformed into a vibrant, self-sustaining and fast rising economic and tourism hub in the North, the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport has brought a steady increase in tourist arrivals over the past several years.
Also called the Cagayan Freeport, the Department of Tourism (DOT) reported an increase of visitors from a mere 2,000 in 2006 to over 75,000 visitors in 2012 and attributed it to the efforts by the present leadership of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA).
As a government-owned and -controlled corporation, CEZA is tasked with managing and developing the 54,000-hectare Cagayan Freeport which covers the entire town of Santa Ana in Cagayan province as well as the islands of Fuga, Barit and Mabbag in Aparri town.
Says CEZA Administrator and Chief Executive Officer Jose Mari Ponce: “The place includes pristine white sand beaches, virgin forests, a protected marine landscape and seascape in Palaui Island, ecologically rich and diverse mangrove areas, bountiful flora and fauna, a dolphin and whale habitat, and even a century old Spanish lighthouse overlooking an enchanting and hidden cove.
”Before we came into the picture, the municipality of Santa Ana was a fifth-class agricultural and fishing town with little in the way of development with only a couple hundred of tourist arrivals per year and very limited employment opportunities,” he said.
”Today,” Ponce said during the recently held 17th Lakbay Pilipinas event organized by the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) at Sofitel Philippine Plaza, “Santa Ana has been upgraded to a second-class municipality and soon to be a first class municipality.
”We are proud to say that we have now 18 hotel resorts, a growing commercial and entrepreneurial sector, and with a very promising tourism industry,” Ponce said.
With its significant contributions that posted positive performance in terms of investment, tourism and economic growth of the region during the recent years, CEZA has earned the credence of various agencies, including the DOT and the PTAA.
PTAA President John Paul Cabalza said that it is in the same recognition that Ponce was invited by PTAA as a guest of honor and speaker during the 17th Lakbay Pilipinas event.
Embarking on aggressive marketing and promotions campaign in the Philippines and abroad, CEZA has joined several conferences and travel expos to showcase the beauty and potential of its territory.
”We have also officially committed to the PTAA by becoming a registered member in order to tap its experience in tourism development and its wide network of tour agencies and operators,” Ponce said.
Top tourist destination
In 2012, the Palaui Island, a CEZA tourist destination, was named as one of the top ten beaches and islands in the world by the CNN Go travel website of the Cable News Network (CNN).
And very recently, Palaui Island is in CNN’s Top 10 Best Beaches in the World beating other beaches in some of the most popular destinations in the world such as Greece, Trinidad and Tobago, Madagascar, Brazil, Barbados and Mexico, placing even higher than El Nido in Palawan (14th) and Puka Beach in Boracay (84th).
Because of its natural beauty, the place has also drawn the attention of reality television series Survivor USA currently filming two seasons of the TV show in Palaui Island, and in several other locations in the Freeport.
The Cagayan Holiday Resort in the San Vicente Naval Operating Base and the Eastern Hawaii Leisure Resort in the CEZA complex are the Cagayan Freeport’s two big foreign companies to invest in leisure resort complexes.
Both leisure resort complexes have online gaming proxy betting operations and a combined occupancy of more than 600 VIP rooms with luxury villas, KTVs, watersports facilities, spas and restaurants.
Ponce said there are two more leisure resort complexes set to be constructed in addition to local entrepreneurs also investing in hotels and accommodations in Santa Ana.
He said an additional 200 rooms have been made available by the new hotels and resorts and this brings the total number of rooms in the Zone to around 800.
As a result of CEZA’s intensive and continuous promotion of the Cagayan Freeport, Ponce claims that there is now an increasing awareness that the Cagayan Freeport is a great tourism destination.