BIMP-EAGA cooperation seen to boost tourism

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Photo credit: palawanday.ru)

Connecting the tourism spots in Malaysia to the world-class destinations in Palawan notably the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) and the premier island resorts in El Nido and Coron is seen to boost tourism exchanges in the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) sub-region.

This was among the major concerns discussed during the recent BIMP-EAGA Tourism Forum and Networking Session, according to Shellamai Roa, Project Development Officer for BIMP-EAGA-Local Government Forum Secretariat of the provincial government.

She told Palawan News that during the recent two-day forum, Datuk Rozman Bil Datuk Haji Isli, Chairman of Labuan Corporation and a member of the Malaysian Parliament, presented a video presentation showcasing major tourism destinations in Malaysia.

The Malaysian leader urged that beach resorts and dive sites in Labuan be connected to a tourism circuit with PPUR and other destinations in the “World’s Best Island”.

Roa said the representatives of the provincial government expressed their support to the Malaysian leader’s proposal. Tourism hubs in Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia were also mulled to become part of the tourism circuit.

The provincial government boasted about new initiatives designed to spur tourism growth, including the completion of the new international airport in Puerto Princesa.  It also noted the ongoing improvement of the Buliluyan Port in Bataraza town in Southern Palawan that will improve links to Kudat, State of Sabah.

For decades, the “backdoor passage” plied by traditional merchants from southern Palawan and southern Philippines en route to Malaysian ports remain the old nautical highway that serves as the trading routes to and from Palawan to EAGA ports in Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.

Roa said it is imperative for BIMP-EAGA member countries to “legitimize” these trading routes by way of improving the port facilities that can accommodate RORO vessels, and set up and harmonize policies on CIQS (Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Security) services for ease of trading.

She added that one of the ongoing projects of the provincial government is the port in San Fernando, El Nido which is now on its pre-construction phase.

The resumption of air connectivity between Palawan and EAGA destinations in Sabah and other parts of Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, and Indonesia however remains to be accomplished by the governments concerned.

To achieve these pursuits, bilateral and multilateral meetings, forums, and conferences are being held periodically to address a host of issues and concerns that need to be ironed out before private sector-driven partnerships can get off the ground.

The recent tourism forum and networking session of BIMP-EAGA recently called for the attainment of common initiatives that aim to strengthen air and sea connectivity among major tourism hubs in the region.

Stating that the BIMP-EAGA initiative is private sector-led and market-driven, with government mainly providing an enabling environment, Roa said they were pleased with the private sector’s active engagement.

In achieving this goal, six strategic areas were identified such as enhanced connectivity, food basket strategy, tourism, environment, trade and investment facilitation, and socio-cultural and education.

In tourism, it is prioritizing community-based eco-tourism (CBET) in order to showcase and conserve natural and cultural resources, while helping develop the lagging communities.

Also, under the food basket strategy, it seeks to sustainably utilize the sub-region’s natural richness and biodiversity to narrow the development gap, alleviate poverty and promote food security in the area.

Facilitating the fast cross-border movement of goods, services and people is among the vision of the BIMP-EAGA.

Also discussed were the promotion of the island as world class tourism destination, network from private sector from Palawan and other focus areas of BIMP, business to business matching of the EAGA tour operators, and the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA)-Palawan EAGA Desk, among others.

The Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) begun as a main agenda item in the high level talks of then President Fidel V. Ramos with his BIM counterpart heads of states in 1992, including then Indonesian President Suharto, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam, and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.

Established in 1994, BIMP-EAGA covers the underdeveloped and geographically remote areas in the four-member countries. It covers the entire sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, nine provinces in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, the island chain of Maluku, and Papua in Indonesia, the federal states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the federal territory of Labuan in Malaysia, and Mindanao’s 26 provinces and the island province of Palawan in the Philippines.

The sub-region covers a land area of 1.6 Million square kilometers and a population of 70 Million people.

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