Tourism masterplan seeks more tourists in Underground River

Authorities cancel the day’s scheduled tours to the Underground River.(file photo)

The city government’s planning consultant Palafox  Associates is proposing to build additional attractions around the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) that will allow the park to accommodate more tourists, noting that the current policy of limiting the number of visitors to the cave is driving away local visitors to other destinations.

“The problem now with PPUR is it can only allow 1,000 visitors a day. But if you look at the demand, just by basing on the arrivals, it reaches almost 2,000. All of them are expecting to visit the underground river, but only 50% of them will be given a chance,” Carlos Libosada Jr., an eco-tourism expert working with Palafox Associates on the city tourism master plan, said.

The recommendation was raised by the consulting firm during the presentation of its proposed City tourism masterplan to city officials Tuesday.

Libosada warned that the city will face a continuing drop in its tourist arrivals unless it is able to develop additional attractions. The firm proposed that either the city government allows and increase in the carrying capacity of the underground river or develop facilities such as a cable car that had been tried successfully in other UNESCO world heritage parks.

“Cable car system can be super compelling and the people don’t have to go inside the cave – it equals the quality of experience,” he said.

Libosada noted that more tourists are diverting away from Puerto Princesa because of the limitations in visiting its main attraction which is the Underground River.

“If you notice, when independent travelers touch down in Puerto Princesa, they go to equally attractive destinations like El Nido because there’s no certainty that they can enter the underground river,” Libosada said.

“If the carrying capacity is too small, it will surely stunt your [tourist arrival] growth [rate], unless you will assure the people who when they go there, they can see what they want to see,” he added.

The park’s management board has set a limit to the number of visitors entering the cave primarily to ensure the conservation of the natural attraction which is listed as a world heritage by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Libosada also pointed out that the city’s domestic and foreign visitor arrivals data showed that Puerto Princesa posted a 21% growth rate in 2012 when PPUR gained prominence as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

However, he added, the city was not able to sustain the figure, with tourism arrival growth rate plummeted to 4.6% in 2016, the lowest since 2011. Meanwhile, the growth rate settled at 6% in 2013 and 2014.

“Because tourists’ expectation is affected, it largely affects the growth of tourism industry. And Puerto Princesa largely depends on tourism – if it collapses, imagine how massive its economic impact would be in the city,” he said.

While the growth rate in tourist arrivals seen no drastic increase in the past years, the total number of tourists, however, spiked from 426,593 in 2010 to 856,764 in 2016.

In the City Tourism Master Plan, Palafox Associates has provided specific recommendations for the following identified tourism management areas: Primary Urban Center; Puerto Princesa Bay; Honda Bay; PPUR and Sabang; Ulugan Bay; Cleopatra’s Needle; Western Seaboard; Southeast Coastal; Midland; and City Environment Center.

The new master plan incorporated the existing plan developed by the City Tourism Office, which indicated the existing and potential tourism sites and activities, clustered according to theme and location.

For this, Libosada said, another concern is the commission-based tours that could be addressed through policy development. “The city may have 20 to 80 tourism products (community-based sustainable tourism sites), but if 90% of them don’t give commission, they will not get tourists,” he said.

“There needs a conscious effort among them (tourism people) to own up the tourism industry because they are part of its total development. So if there are sites they think tourists will enjoy visiting, why not bring them there?”

With the development of new green open spaces and parks, as suggested in the overall city master plan, and the creation of additional regional flights, Libosada said Palafox Associates projects the city to welcome 1.4 million tourists (14.6% growth rate) by 2023.

The proposed master plan is set to be subjected to public consultations and approval of the City Development Council.


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