Visiting SOCCSKSARGEN: Changing perception, loving SOX

   The tourism sector of SOCCSKSARGEN (SOX) welcomed distinguished guests outside of the region: they are the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) and Tour Operators from Visayas as well as representatives from Philippine Airlines (PAL) and International Air Transport Association (IATA). I am fortunate that I accompanied them, together with Ms. Jellybee Baay from the Department of Tourism (DOT) 12, to roam around the region. The guests visited SOX not only to see the prime destinations of the region but also to do business matching with Tourism Local Enterprises. 

   The three day visit (March 22-24, 2017) of PHILTOA was part of their familiarization tour in the region. Their tour aims to identify tourism destinations that could be included in their tour packages. 

   “PHILTOA is an organization of tour operators and allied members actively involved in the advocacy of responsible tourism. It was founded on June 12, 1986 as a non-stock and non-profit organization. The membership includes travel agencies, hotels, resorts, transportation companies, handicraft stores, and other tourism oriented establishments and associations. PHILTOA is the leading inbound and domestic tourism association with global networks, actively contributing to national economic growth.” PHILTOA also organizes the Philippine Travel Mart (PTM), one of the biggest tourism events in the country. 

   On the other hand, Tour Operators from Visayas also (March 27-28, 2017) had a similar visit. The group and the local tourism sector conducted product presentations and business matching. The visitation of the two groups entails many opportunities in our region. In short, it will boost economic activity since more tourists and investors would visit SOX through their recommendations. 

   It is a good economic indicator that Philippine Airlines (PAL) has now Cebu-GenSan-Cebu flight (thrice weekly). PAL opened it last Sunday (March 26, 2017) along with 11 domestic routes, with Clark and Cebu as its main hub. The expanded operations in these hubs aim to make flights more accessible to more Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao customers and help decongest the Manila hub. Representatives from PAL joined the Tour Operators from Visayas in their short but fruitful visit in GenSan and Sarangani Province. 

   As I accompanied the two groups during their visitation, I realized that as locals living in SOX or Mindanao in general, we should act as ambassadors of our place. As they have related, most of them had negative perceptions about Mindanao. Most of the guests thought that Mindanao was a war torn island inhabited by war-freak locals who like to behead tourists. A shameless prankster can easily fool them because of their lack of knowledge about Mindanao. I cannot blame them for having such grim picture of Mindanao in their minds. The media, especially Manila-based networks, like to capitalize on this kind of story. Thanks to our destinations and hospitable locals that their backward perceptions of Mindanao were all erased. As I have expected, they easily fell in love with SOX. The moment they saw some of our destinations, they declared to come back soon. 

   The advent of social media can easily counter these kind of negative perceptions on peace and order condition in Mindanao. With the help of social media influencers, Bloggers and Tourism Advocates, they would easily defend Mindanao against negative and biased reporting through sharing photos and stories of scenic spots as well as its people living in Mindanao. But of course, the best way to explain it is to let non-Mindanaons visit Mindanao and experience its hidden wonders. 

   According to Regional Director Nelly Nita Dillera of the Department of Tourism (DOT) 12, tourists arrival in SOX region has increased last year, with a total number of 3,764,664. Recently, DOT 12 launched another tourism campaign called “SOX is Next,” enticing local and foreign tourist that SOCCSKSARGEN should be the next tourist destination of choice in the country.

   SOX has so much to offer. As locals living in the region, we should also do our part to make our place more livable, sustainable and alluring to visitors.

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