The Bird Festival of Tacurong City (May 12-13, 2017)

The Bird Festival of Tacurong City (May12-13, 2017)

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

The just concluded Bird Festival of Tacurong City, held on May 12 and 13 has been a resounding success with several travel bloggers and prominent personalities who are nature lovers in attendance. A contingent from ABS-CBN from Davao City also covered the duration of the affair which included activities such as forum on birdwatching and nature conservation at the Notre Dame of Tacurong College, photo exhibit at the bridge area of Fitmart, bazaar, and art exhibit highlighted by actual application of tattoo on willing visitors, by local tattoo artists at the parking ground of the sanctuary.

 

The Baras Bird Sanctuaty is located in the barangay of Baras which is a few-minute drive from the downtown area. Owned by Rey Malana and subsidized by the city government, it is situated along the eastern bank of Kapingkong River. Bamboo groves and madre de cacao trees or “kakawate”, many of which are more than 50 years old provide home to the indigenous and migratory birds from mainland China and neighboring Southeast Asian countries. But, dominant among the avian population is the locally known “tagak” or heron.

 

The sanctuary started as an ordinary “farm” of the Malana family with bamboo groves providing shade to the long stretch of the river bank. When Rey who took care of the property observed the steady arrival of birds which eventually enhanced the increasing population of the indigenous ones, he decided to protect them.  Foremost of his restrictive policies is the non-entry of vehicles beyond the entrance shaded with the branches of trees and bamboos creating an impression of a tunnel. This is necessary to prevent the disturbance of the bird, especially, the nesting ones.

 

Due to the popularity gained by the sanctuary, thanks to the discreet visit of bloggers who shared their experience among their followers, the local government under the stewardship of Mayor Lina Montilla, initially, provided support. Later, the local tourism office headed by Ms. Emilie Jamorabon, tried hard how to harness the popularity to boost their tourism effort. With the early festivals having shown encouraging results, Ms. Jamorabon sought support from friends for the rest of the festivities that followed.

 

The avian festival has decidedly boosted the tourism program of the city which to date is already gaining ground due to the mushrooming of inland resorts located along the peripheries of the downtown area, most especially, in Baras and New Passi, home of the internationally-known Monte Vicenteaux Resort. According to Ms. Jamorabon, more plans are being conceived to encourage birdwatchers from other parts of the country to visit Baras. Among the plan is the putting up of viewing posts and accommodation facilities that would follow the concept of “nature tourism”.

 

The Baras Bird Sanctuary, is the first-ever community- protected avian haven in southern Mindanao. It provides a serene oasis in the midst of vast palm oil plantations that stretch from Montilla, Katungal, up to New Passi. From the air, the canopy of the palm trees looks like a stretch of dark jade panorama….no wonder the winged creatures found solace among the branches where they built their nests to mark their well-chosen home!

 

The PAL TOPIC Magazine, PALakbayan Tours and PAL’s Total Effort in Promoting Philippine Tourism

The PAL TOPIC Magazine, PALakbayan Tours

And PAL’s Total Effort in Promoting Philippine Tourism

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

TOPIC which stood for “Tours and Promotions Information Office” was the publication conceived by the Marketing and Sales- Philippines during the time of Mr. Ricardo Paloma as a tool for the promotion and “selling” of the tourist destinations; festivals; tourist facilities such as restaurants, hotels, pensions, transport services; festivals; outdoor sports such as mountaineering, spelunking (cave exploration), bird watching, trekking, scuba diving; festivals; dive spots and mountains. It was administered by Mr. Vic Bernardino, the Manager of the Tours and Promotions Division. The early issues were edited by Alex Enrile, which was later on taken over by this writer. The magazine is the epitome of the typical Filipino “bayanihan” or cooperation spirit, as the whole staff of the Division contributed their skills to make every issue interesting.

 

As if by coincidence, the staff of the Division had various expertise in the fields of scuba diving, mountain climbing, cave exploration and birdwatching, not to mention outdoor photography. Thelma Villaseἧor was for instance, a scuba diver and mountain climber, and so were Ed Buensuceso, John Fortes, Reggie Constantino, Bong Velasco, and Julio Luz, Jr.  Aside from diving and climbing, John Fortes and Ed Buensuceso were also spelunkers (cave explorers), who pioneered the exploration and mapping of the Palawan Underground River (formerly, St. Paul Subterranean Park), with the help of a caving team from Europe.

 

Ed Buensuceso, together with the Kennedy National Geographic Team recorded the first-ever in-flight mating and breeding of the Philippine Eagle (formerly, Monkey-eating Eagle), for which close coordination was made with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through its Baracatan Breeding Station in Sta. Cruz, Davao City. For such effort, the Department of Tourism-Davao was also involved. On the other hand, John Fortes was exerting his own effort in promoting mountaineering in the country, the penultimate of which was the organization of all mountaineering clubs into the National Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines (NMFP).

 

Mayie Santos an intrepid writer who was among the original staff of the Division contributed her share of effort by attending festivals and making reviews on resorts, pension homes, hotels and restaurants. Even Vic Bernardino, the Manager, would lend a hand in gathering information as needed, by attending important touristic activities. Furthermore, the staff was also trained to speak in seminars on Philippine tourism aided with slides presentation and handouts. Information given to participants were first-hand, hence, even the Department of Tourism, the UP Asian Institute of Tourism, embassies, consulates, tour and travel organizations, and educational institutions would request for the group’s assistance.

 

Later, in line with the tourism-centered effort of the airline, Mr. Paloma also conceived the PALakbayan Tour Program which consolidated all the efforts, this time, with the cooperation of the domestic stations. The program was divided into several “modules” such as Excursion, Education and Culture, Conventions and Seminars, and Sports. During this time, the exhaustive endeavor in exploring tourist spots was doubled, bringing to light non-traditional destinations such Sorsogon, Romblon, Mamburao, Palawan, Fuga Island, etc. Development of outdoor activities which were new among local tourists involving study of butterflies, migratory habits of birds, and culture of tribal communities were also developed to stir their interest. Schools were encouraged to consult the office for their planned educational tour program and other out-of-town activities, for which PAL stations were tapped for assistance.

 

The PALakbayan Tour Program virtually catered to all the needs of air-travelers within the country…the airline’s proud legacy to the industry, and considered as “Asia’s First Airline”, which initially operated using rehabilitated post-war DC-3’s.

The Forgotten Role of Philippine Airlines (PAL) in Air Travel and Tourism Development in the Philippines

The Forgotten Role of Philippine Airlines (PAL)

In Air Travel and Tourism Development in the Philippines

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

When I joined the Marketing and Sales Department of Phippine Airlines in 1975, its Public Relations Office (currently, Corporate Communications) was already actively conducting air travel familiarization tours for groups, particularly, students and civic organizations. The groups were shown the airline’s facilities at the airport (the old Domestic airport), especially, the interior of the aircrafts which at that time were DC-3, HS748, YS11, and later, BAC1-11. Fare discounts were given to frequently traveling groups and individuals. The ulterior motive here was to educate the public about the advantages, especially, the comfort of air travel.

 

The Tours and Promotions-Philippines (TPP) headed by Vic Bernardino as manager, regularly conducted surveys, practically, throughout the Philippines – from Batanes to Tawi-tawi, to gather information on their touristic attractions, and other information that could lure travelers. The airline was then servicing Tawi-tawi and Sulu, via Zamboanga, while Batanes had straight flights from Manila and on other days, via Tuguegarao. The hubs of air travel were Manila for Luzon provinces, Cebu for Visayas and some Mindanao provinces, and Davao for the rest of Mindanao provinces. The Tours and Promotions-Philippines printed and distributed a regularly updated Philippine hotel directory, and the bi-monthly TOPIC Magazine which contained information on touristic destinations, hotels, resorts, festivals, and outdoor sports, such as diving, mountain climbing, spelunking (cave exploration), trekking and birdwatching. The hotel directory and magazine were distributed among schools, hotels, organizations, embassies and consulates.

 

The Tours and Promotions-Philippines office also conceived and developed an encompassing tour program that practically covered all facets of travel – educational, convention and seminar, outdoor sports, and charter. The travel market was segmented into sectors to identify their specific needs and requirements. This was called the PALakbayan Tour Program. Coordination within the marketing and sales departments of the airline was closely knit, so that a mere phone inquiries on destinations, be they serviced by PAL or not was quickly satisfied. The staff of Tours and Promotions office were all adept about travel within the Philippines so that they were regularly requested as resource speakers in tourism forums and seminars. For free, they also helped tour and convention/seminar organizers in coming up with realistic packages that their clients could afford.

 

The The TPP, through its Representative, John Fortes, organized the PAL Mountaineering Club which promoted and developed the sport in the country. To encourage mountaineering, he organized summer climbs to well-known mountains in the country, such as, Mt. Apo (between Davao and Cotabato), Mt. Hibok-Hibok (Camiguin), Mt. Madja-as (Antique), Mt. Pulog (Benguet), Mt. Mayon (Albay), Mt. Dos Cuernos (Tuguegarao),  Mt. Kanlaon (Negros Occ.). Treks were organized for Mt. Banahaw, Mt. Makiling, and Taal. With the increasing mountaineering clubs in campuses and provinces, Mr. Fortes initiated the formation of the National Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines (NMFP).  Simultaneously, Jun Luz, another TPP Representative handled the promotion of diving programs around the country. He was in touch with the different dive operators and groups in other countries to promote the dive sites that later graced the pages of international travel magazines and dive brochures.

 

On the other hand, Ed Buensuceso, section supervisor of TPP developed birdwatching areas around the country, an effort which brought to fore the plight of the Philippine Eagle, known before as monkety-eating eagle. He was a member of the scientific team from the United States that documented the life of the eagles, from their airborne mating to breeding. The first documentary was printed in National Geographic Magazine. Ed Buensuceso was also instrumental in the first survey of the Puerto Princesa Underground River conducted by an Australian environmentalist group. As an important information, the underground river is originally attributed to Palawan province, not Puerto Princesa city, hence, its original name was St. Paul Sub-terranean Park of Palawan. The effort of Mr. Buensuceso in developing Palawan as a tourist destination was extended to the Batak tribe which for long was not known among the rest of the Filipinos. He also spearheaded surveys of off-the-beaten-track destinations that brought to light the hidden touristc treasures of Caramoan peninsula in Bicol, the corals around the islets of Mindoro, Dumaguete and the now-famous Tubbataha Reef. The big waves of Siargao, Surigao, Aurora, and southern portion of Bicol were already captured in slides when Ed Buensuceso surveyed them for promotion in other countries whose tourists were interested in outdoor activities.

 

During the Marcos administration, there was a great demand for hotel rooms because Manila and other major cities in the provinces were peaking up as convention destinations in Asia. It was during this time that the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) was built together with the rest of the facilities within the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex, that included Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theater, Philtrade, and Film Center. The TPP of PAL on its part, actively worked with convention organizers to help them with their packages that included airfare discount and representation with provincial hotels for group discounts. Student groups were flown to provinces for educational tours, as well as,  international groups that were regularly flown in by PAL and other airlines. Tie-ups were made with shipping lines and bus companies for tour packages, and of course, hotels at destinations.

 

Later on, the PALakbayan tour program gave birth to “illegitimate” tour programs developed by other tourism agencies. Unfortunately, the copycats failed to bring to life the essence of the program which is founded on the “total care” of customers, specifically, the “Total Passenger Care”. By “ total”, the airline even took care of the traveller’s other needs that do not concern its direct service, such as onward booking until the day of his departure, referral to other agencies, and giving of necessary information at destination, such as things that can be done on his own.

 

Every time, the TPP staff had a chance to speak to local government officials, the latter were encouraged to organize their own “local tourism office”, to handle what we called “backyard tourism”, or local small-scale tourism business in line with the eco-tourism concept. The Department of Tourism during that time, was aware of this effort. It was explained to them that having DOT field offices in major cities was not enough. There was yet, the need to fully coordinate with local government units in the implementation or promotion of programs. PAL already recognized this need that is why its station supervisors and managers were mandated to be closely in touch with local officials, even those located far from PAL stations. Also, practically, the staff in all domestic stations played important roles as coordinators to prevent hitches, especially, in the handling of groups.

 

The energetic promotion of tourism from the end of PAL came from Mr. Ricardo Paloma, Regional Vice-President/Philippines and Guam, who initiated efforts in touching base with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and government agencies concerned about environment conservation. Practically, the DOT involved the airline in all its touristic ventures. On the other hand, the airline furnished the DOT with all the input that the staff of the TPP gathered from their surveys. Mr. Paloma conceptualized the “eco-tourism” which is the basis of the government in the promotion of local tourism today. There was much effort in preserving the laid back image of the country as a touristic destination in Asia. That early, the “tourism think tank” of PAL was apprehensive about the destruction of the natural endowments of dive spots and mountains, as are happening now. The once pristine Boracay island is now a sorry site with no reliable waste disposal system, the mountains become garbage dumps after climbs, coral “gardens” are littered with plastic bottles, etc.

 

Today, tourism industry in the country is kicking high. The unsung PALers  who did their part as conceptualizers, coordinators, guides, resource speakers, and who formed the early family of Philippine Airlines could just smile and utter a silent thank that the country’s flag carrier is still flying…and, at last, the less beaten tracks towards the hidden gems of the country are now heavily trodden by sneakers and mountaineering boots of eager tourists…