By Rhaydz B. Barcia
LEGAZPI CITY --- Seventeen years after a “roller-coaster-ride” and hard work, Bicol tourism director Maria “Nini” Ong-Ravanilla finally bid adieu after successfully putting Bicol in the map of the country’s Top 10 tourist destinations.
In the past decades, Bicol lagged behind but with Ravanilla at the DOT helm, the region accelerated as one of the country’s top destinations with one million tourists registered in 2016.
Ravanilla reported before tourism stakeholders in Bicol that she was leaving behind P9B worth of completed projects and a P23B budget for Bicol tourism development for year 2018 to 2022.
“From 2018 to 2022, our office, in partnership with DPWH, endorsed 26 projects worth P23B. Fifteen out of 26 projects were approved. Road access is very important for tourism development. We’re building more projects and access roads for investors to come in and for them to develop our products,” she said.
Ravanilla explained that the role of the government is to strengthen governance and the community for transformation as the human capital.
“We started a roller-coaster-ride when we started 17 years ago, from the second bottom to Top 10 tourism destinations in the country,” she said.
Ravanilla said Camarines Sur is Top 3 and Albay is Top 6 among tourism destinations in the country in the province category with the help of their Bicol local officials, media and tourism stakeholders.
When Ravanilla took her post, there were only two flights in Legazpi, but to date, there are more than 10 flights per day excluding the two night flights, owing to the influx of tourists and businessmen here.
In 2016, the Legazpi City National Airport was upgraded as Albay International Gateway for Chartered Flights to accommodate more visiting Chinese tourists.
Ravanilla said that after 17 years and six months of working so hard to sell the wonders of Bicol specifically Albay, it was finally chosen by foreign tourists to become a new major destination in the country.
“Bicol is now the country’s top tourism hub. The only problem is that we don’t have a direct flight from Korea and other countries. Koreans and Chinese tourists are clamoring for a direct flight from their respective country to Legazpi. Hopefully, the construction of Bicol International Airport will be fast tracked to accommodate direct and international flights here,” she said.
Ravanilla also cited that through tourism promotion and development, the cities of Legazpi and Naga are the country’s most competitive cities with two aggressive chief executives promoting tourism here.
“With Mayor Noel Rosal, Legazpi City is the number one most competitive city in the country and Naga City ranked second under Mayor John Bongat. They are very aggressive mayors with a vision to accredit more establishments. These two cities are recognized as the most competitive in the country,” she said.
Naga City Hall, however, corrected that per National Competitiveness Council, Naga was No. 1 Most Competitive Component City in 2015 and 2016 while Legazpi was third during the latter period. Competitiveness ranking for 2017 is yet to be announced, Bicol Mail was told.
Under Ravanilla’s helm, Albay, Masbate and Sorsogon (Almasor) covering three provinces in south Bicol generated more tourists as triumvirate package.
Another tourism promotion here is the so called Triple C, representing the provinces of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes Island in north Bicol suited for surfing and wakeboarding events.
“We’re leaving a legacy behind the remarkable development of the Almasor and the Triple C for Bicol governors. I hope the new DOT director will be enjoying a lot. This will be my legacy. Before bowing out of my office, I will be working and bid in the US for us to host the annual BNAA convention in Bicol next year,” Ravanilla said.
“I think the wonderful ride comes to a close. Along the way, it was not a smooth ride -- it was the roller-coaster ride but with your remarkable help specifically my partners in media we made Bicol as Top 10 tourist destination in the Philippines,” Ravanilla said.
Ravanilla is the longest serving director in Bicol region. She was appointed as DOT director in Bicol during the administrations of Presidents Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno Aquino and reappointed again by President Rodrigo R. Duterte. Her term of office was extended again by Duterte six months after her retirement age in January 2017.
The new regional director that replaced him is Benjamin Santiago, a businessman based in Legazpi but grew up and studied in Naga.