Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Taste of Bohol Tourism

Two things I learned from my visit to Bohol and Panglao last week: first, Bohol can be an expensive place for a tourist; and second, as far as tourism is concerned, Bohol seems to have its act together. I suspect that one follows the other, that the cost is at least justified by the level of organization. Of course, I couldn't help but make comparisons with tourism in Dumaguete.

First, the cost. It's cheap enough to get to Bohol from Cebu. Ferry companies are striving to outdo each other in price reduction. Right now, the lowest price stands at P400 for a round trip ticket. Compare this with a P400 one-way ticket from Dumaguete to Bohol and, well, perhaps you'll wonder whether there's anything amiss. I do believe it actually costs the same to get to from Dumaguete to Bohol via Cebu as it does to go directly to Bohol. Why is that, I wonder?

But the gouging starts once you get to Bohol. From Bohol to Panglao, taxis will charge an exorbitant P400 one-way. Tricycles aren't much better, with one-way rates anywhere from P150 to P300. If the transportation rates are that high, can the hotel room rates be far behind? Fortunately for us, we had reasonable rooms at only P750 per person. Food, well, food came to around P200 to P300 per person per meal. Ouch, talk about tourist traps!

On our last day we went through the usual Bohol tourist route. Chocolate Hills, Loboc River, Baclayon Church, the Legaspi-Sikatuna monument, the hanging bridge, the man-made forest, and, of course, the tarsiers. My friend negotiated for a car to take us around for eight hours at a cost of P2,000. Still a little pricey, though not too much. All the same, I was fairly impressed that the driver had the sightseeing routine down pat. Not just him, too, but several others like him as I eavesdropped on other tour guides over the ooh'ing and ah'ing of Korean tourists.

Which brings me to the second point, organization. Bohol might be expensive but it boasts of some degree of organization, and that, perhaps, is why they can charge so much. Our driver struck me as fairly ordinary and none-too-bright, but he knew where to take us and what bits of information to highlight. When I complimented him on his knowledge, he said that he was part of a tourism association and they had to know about the usual sights. New drivers had to go through an orientation course until they got it right. And so they take tourists through all the usual.

Now isn't that a sensible idea? I wonder if their Dumaguete counterparts can say the same.

It's not just the tourist associations, though. All of Bohol seems geared towards tourism. The Tagbilaran terminal has a tourism information desk (though it seems oddly misplaced inside the predeparture area); and the city has a prominent tourism office right across its biggest mall. The tourism information desk gives out large and colorful maps and brochures identifying the things to see and do around Bohol. And Bohol is expanding its museum, prior to handing over the reins to the National Museum.

It's not perfect, mind you, but it does give a sense of preparedness and welcome to tourists. Now if only the locals wouldn't bilk the visitors so much.

Let's run this quick checklist against Dumaguete and Negros Oriental: (1) Do we have a prominent tourism desk stationed at the port of entry? (2) Do we have integrated maps and brochures that tell the tourists where to go? (3) Do we have a standard itinerary to present to our guests? These are simple enough to put together, but it seems they can go a long way to promoting tourism in our own province.