Thursday, March 23, 2017

DOT Bicol cautions public on fake online travel agencies
By Connie B. Destura

LEGAZPI CITY, March 23 (PNA) -- The Department of Tourism in Bicol has alerted the public about bogus travel agencies offering too-good-to-be true travel packages with low prices for both domestic and international sites that turn out to be non-existent, especially during the summer season.

“If the travel packages are too good to be true, these are not true and are illegal,” said Bobby Gigantone, administrative officer of DOT-Bicol.

He said the tourism department does not have any police power to run after these illegal online travel operators.

“(But) we will be making advisories and declare the travel agencies that are accredited with the Department of Tourism,” Gigantone said in an interview Wednesday night.

He said the advisory will include information if the tour operator has a mayor's permit which is one way of ensuring the travelers are protected and safe.

Gigantone said travelers plan their Bicol trips for more than a year only to find out that the places they will be visiting are different from what was initially advertised.

“That’s what we're afraid of especially if they are operating here in Bicol,” he said.

Gigantone said these fake tour operators will be tarnishing Bicol’s image.

He said DOT-Bicol does not tolerate online travel agencies.

Gigantone said the tourism department, which is “upgrading and reconstructing its website,” has a Facebook fan page where the public can view the list of accredited tour operators, travel agencies and tour guides who can assist them.

He said the department has the hotline number 742-5004 for tourists who cannot afford tour packages, such as backpackers and those who go for solo or budget trips, the so-called “tipid” trips.

“We can assist them so they can experience what's truly ‘Gayon Bicol’ (Beautiful Bicol),” he added.

Gigantone said Camarines Sur is the top destination for local and foreign tourists as it is the biggest province in the Bicol region with so many activities to offer.

He said the province offers a lot of island hopping, one of them to the famous Caramoan Island.

Gigantone said next to Camarines Sur travelers favor Albay, Camarines Norte (where the famous Calaguas Group of Islands is located), Sorsogon, Masbate and Catanduanes.

He said the tourism department has always been reminding the local government units (LGU) to be conscious about projecting a good “image brand” which could be achieved not just by focusing on the business aspect of enticing travelers to their places.

Gigantone said “service, safety and security” should be of utmost consideration to the LGUs seeking to attract a big number of visitors to their places.

“The success of whatever efforts made in tourism lies in the hands of the local government, who should be able to serve and not just do business,” he said.

He added that for resorts with facilities like swimming pools, DOT-Bicol is coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard to ensure that all amenities are there such as life savers and life guards, especially in private resorts and public beaches in various municipalities.

Gigantone advised LGUs to have a “lot to offer” so that tourists can go to their places.

He cited that LGUs should offer new destinations in their areas, ensure these are accessible and that there are accommodations, good eating places and transportation facilities.

Gigantone said these components affect tourists’ preferences on which place to visit that would give them a fulfilling experience.

In January, DOT-Bicol records showed that domestic and foreign tourist arrivals in all the six Bicol provinces and six cities in the region, that were recorded from January to June 2016 increased by 26.6 percent compared to the same period in 2015.

The total number of combined domestic and foreign tourists was 2,202,003 million from January to June 2015 while for the same period the total arrivals in the region was 2,787,719 million.

“Bicol is now a promising and rosy tourist destination compared to the other areas in the country as the number of visiting tourists, particularly foreign tourists, has tremendously increased annually, said Maria O. Ravanilla, DOT-Bicol director.

Ravanilla, in an interview, said the “Bicol region has now emerged as one of the top five tourist destinations in the country compared to its ‘sluggish’ performance during the early ‘90s.” (PNA)