Officials are re-branding Ilocos tourism as a home for family getaways and for those looking to have a feel for the Ilocano lifestyle.
Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos said the loss of international flights has been providential because it paved the way for a shift in tourism landscape from a casino town to one that is family-oriented.
“The loss of profitable international flights has been a wake-up call for the province. We took a good hard look at the old casino-dependent model and, for the first time, develop a multi-faceted, family-driven tourism focus of sand and wind sports adventure, heritage and cuisine-tourism,” she said.
The provincial government has been building facilities that service domestic and international tourism from rebranding the Museo Iloco, the province’s center for culture and heritage, as a food and retail outlet and improving existing tourism facilities such as the Malacañang of the North and the Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center now named Plaza del Norte. A duty-free shop, which was formerly housed at the Fort Ilocandia resort, re-opened in June and has now a new home at the Laoag airport.
A two-storey food and retail joint has been completed beside the Museo Iloco and ready for occupancy while a tourism master plan is in the works with the establishment of a souvenir arcade that will line the world heritage structure Paoay church in Paoay town.
“We seek to provide investors and tourists with the unique Ilocano lifestyle,” Marcos said.
She said domestic tourism during the summer season reflected an increase in hotel occupancy of about 300 percent.
Tourism officials are sustaining marketing efforts to capture more tourist exchanges between Cebu and Camarines Sur which both signed sisterhood pacts with Ilocos Norte.
The Laoag International Airport used to service international flights from China and Taiwan which carries passengers that mostly come to this city for rest and recreation and to play at the casino housed at the Fort Ilocandia Resort Hotel.
Flights to and from Hong Kong pulled out from Laoag at the height of the Manila hostage crisis which killed and injured Hong Kong nationals.
Ronald Estabillo, Laoag Airport manager, said only Air Macau carries international travelers to Laoag through its chartered flights that resumed in June.
“Each month, around 17 Macau flights have entered and exited Laoag. Bookings for this route could be done through its charterer,” he said.
Domestic flights from Manila, however, filled the gap with the entry of about 300 tourists that make their way to Laoag everyday through Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, according to Department of Tourism data. (ANL/PIA 1 Ilocos Norte/Cristina Arzadon)