Davao City — I just came from the launch of the first Mindanao Travel Expo at a major convention center in the city. Graced by no less than Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco, the event brought together tourism stakeholders including the DOT officialdom, the LGU tourism officers and businesses in a large exposition showcasing attractions and facilities with varied offerings.
In the 70s and 80s, I remember travelling to Mindanao cities often. Back then, this meant taking a direct flight from Manila to only four destinations: Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato City, Davao and Zamboanga, with the last two being the only airports that could take in arrivals after sunset. These were served by jet aircraft, as I do not recall any regular scheduled turboprop service from Manila to any Mindanao destination, which, if I may add, was served by only one airline. To get to other Mindanao cities, one had to connect through Cebu, since these airports would often be able to receive smaller jet prop aircraft and do so only between sunrise and sunset.
At that time, few people thought of Mindanao as a travel destination. Most of those travelling did so for business or personal reasons. Any sightseeing was thus incidental, since except for the larger Mindanao cities with their own attractions, most required one to travel long hours through rough roads. Yet even at that time, people saw the potential of various lakes, waterfalls, islands, beaches and mountain retreats that remained unharnessed.
People started taking greater notice of Mindanao about 20 years ago when Davao and Cagayan de Oro began attracting convention visitors. Camiguin began attracting visitors from Mindanao and Cebu; Siargao became known worldwide for beaches and surfing; and Samal island in Davao. Cable TV channels and internet websites began featuring those places.
The advent of low airfares in the late 2000s bolstered the desire to explore Mindanao cities, with more airports upgrading like Dipolog, Pagadian, General Santos, Ozamiz, Butuan, taking in jet flights straight from Manila, the direct international flights to Davao from Singapore and Palau after the new international airport terminal opened in 2004.
As we entered the 2010s, YouTube and social media postings enticed us to visit various other unseen places, with tourist demand prompting local government investments in roads and facilities. More convention visitors flocked to Davao, Surigao’s enchanted river gained popularity, along with Cagwait cove and the Britania islands, Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, the pink sands of Sta. Cruz island in Zamboanga.
As the years progressed, hotels in Mindanao cities began building larger convention facilities, and roads were widened especially in the last five years. Moreover, the improved peace and order situation in the last few years helped encourage more investments in tourist facilities like hotels and restaurants.
In the case of Mindanao, this brought a deeper interest in the depth of its diverse and deep culture and pristine natural attractions including recent developments which include impressive “sea of clouds “ destinations in the Davao region, with small resorts, restaurants and coffee shop offering mountain escapes overlooking small valleys where clouds and fog would gather in the cool mornings.
Looking ahead, I foresee a deeper interest in Mindanao’s tourist sector, as the world begins to know more about its unique cuisine, heritage that predates Spanish colonization, magnificent mountains, fresh fruits, the colors of indigenous inspired garments, and smiles that its people show to those who visit.