COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao: Tawi-Tawi, one of the five provinces belonging to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is getting an increasing number of local and foreign tourists who in 2015 spent close to P1 billion there.
Marites Maguindra, secretary of the Department of Tourism-ARMM (DOT-ARMM), said local and foreign tourists arriving in 2015 to the island province reached 55,085 or a 14.3-percent increase from 2014 while posting P965 million in gross tourism receipts.
Over 48,189 tourists came to the province for holidays or business. Tawi-Tawi is the southernmost province in the country and covers small islands in the Sulu Sea and to the northwest, particularly Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi Island and Turtle Island.
To facilitate travel to the area especially to mainland Tawi-Tawi, the ARMM government is building more road networks in the province undertaken by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH-ARMM).
Don Mustapha Loong, DPWH-ARMM secretary, said his office is providing assistance to the tourism industry with the construction of access roads to various tourist sites in the region.
Loong said the DPWH-ARMM has earmarked P55 million for facilities that will allow tourists to visit Bud Bongao, Tawi-Tawi’s famous mountain, which is becoming a favorite of mountaineers.
Maguindra said tourism projects for Bud Bongao include a multi-purpose hall, viewing deck, station point, concrete pathway, parking area and a billboard.
“After the development of Bud Bongao, tourist arrivals and gross receipts in Tawi-Tawi, will further increase,” she said.
Maguindra added DOT-ARMM will also develop ecotourism packages in Tawi-Tawi and some of the activities to be promoted are scuba diving, island hopping and visit to local communities.
Among the province’s major tourist sites are Panampangan Island, the white beaches in the municipalities of Sapa-Sapa and Sitangkai, Boloboc Cave in Sanga-Sanga Island, and Turtle Island that has been declared a turtle sanctuary.
Facilities for tourists
There are number of hotels in Tawi-Tawi in the capital of Bongao that offer affordable rates while beach resorts offer scuba diving packages like rental of diving equipment including tourist guide and motor boats.
Beach resorts also serve Tawi-Tawi’s delicacies while at the local fish market, tourists buy fresh marine products like seaweeds and sea urchins in addition to the newly landed fresh fish at a very low prices.
Among the fresh fish products available at the Bongao Fish Market are several varieties of fish belonging to different species like tuna, tangigue, blue marlin and marine eel, among others.
Meanwhile, official figures from ARMM’s tourism department showed a total of 192,307 visitors arriving in 2015 and P3.4 billion in gross receipts. In 2014, tourist arrivals were placed at 168,178 and gross receipts at P2.9 billion. The 2015 figures showed a significant increase of 14.3-percent in tourist arrivals and 17.2-percent in gross receipts.
Moreover, to strengthen tourism linkages, the DOT-ARMM gathered hundreds of tourism officers and industry players across the region for a tourism assembly held last year.
Based on the regional tourism department’s annual report, much of the increase in tourism arrivals was during the last quarter of 2015, especially during the Agal-Agal (seaweeds) Festival and Sheikh Karimul Makhdum.
“The achievement is because of the beautiful beaches, scenic spots and the improved security measures in the region,” Maguindra pointed out.
“It’s more fun in ARMM, so tayo mismo ang dapat maunang magdevelop nito dahil tayo lang sa ARMM ang makakapagsabi nito (thus we should be the first ones to develop this since we are the ones who know this well),” the DOT-ARMM secretary said.
“With all the efforts of the ARMM government, we are confident that we will exceed our tourism achievements this year,” she added.