Bohol tourism is growing by leaps and bounds, veering away from domestic-led tourism as foreign arrivals now provide nearly half its total business.
Numbers from Bohol Provincial Tourism Office (BPTO) showed that the Visayan province’s total arrivals already reached 485,193 as of August 9, a big leap from the 535,803 total achieved in 2022.
Of the August 9 total, 153,548 arrivals or 45 per cent are foreigners. This number of foreign tourists is nearly five times more than the 32,310 foreigners who visited Bohol last year.
BPTO officer-in-charge Joanne Pinat said top foreign markets are South Korea with 62,098, Taiwan a far second with 13,210, followed by the US with 10,433.
Longhaul source markets are also growing impressively as of August 9 compared with 2022 – whole of Europe to 28,255 from 8,383; the US, Canada and Mexico to 14,548 from just 4,899; and Australasia/Pacific to 4,091 from 1,161.
Pinat attributed Bohol’s fast recovery to the vast variety of its offerings – from beaches and laid-back lifestyle, to culture, heritage and improved infrastructure including an international airport and more hotels.
Becoming internationally recognised recently as the Philippines’ first and only UNESCO Global Geopark also added to Bohol Island’s allure, Pinat pointed out, even as several tour packages are already on offer and still others being rolled out to showcase its unique geological identity shaped over 150 million years.
Hotels in general have an average occupancy of 90 per cent and a shortage of hotel keys are already being felt, she said.
Panglao Island, the most popular destination in Bohol by far, has an estimated 4,000 keys and a total of 8,000 keys for the whole province.
Several new hotels are being eyed in Bohol by Marriott International and Accor’s M Gallery while Crown Regency is under construction, in addition to hotels and resorts that opened during the pandemic, including Modala Resort in Panglao.
In addition, Bohol also recently launched faith-based tourism, a decade after the vintage churches destroyed by the 2013 earthquake have all been restored and 505 years after the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines.
Pilgrimage tours of the historic churches are now on offer year-round in tandem with the Diocese of Tagbilaran, the centre of the Catholic Church in Bohol, according to Lourdes Sultan, managing director of Travel Village Tours and Travel and president of Bohol Federation of Travel and Tour Operators.
While these churches are tourist attractions in themselves, the tours also provide options for a deeper spiritual immersion, such as guides, as well as practices similar to pilgrimages in religious and holy sites in Israel, Europe and other countries, Sultan said.
She added that initial target markets are overseas Filipino workers, balikbayans or visiting Filipinos residing abroad and the domestic market and eventually, foreign visitors.