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by Rhaydz B. Barcia and Raffy S. Ayeng, The Manila Times
Legazpi City – The Aquino administration is expediting the construction of P3.5-billion Bicol International Airport in Albay to cater to the rising influx of foreign and domestic tourists making Bicol one of the fastest growing region in the country Tourism secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. told The Manila Times.
Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., who opened of the monthlong Magayon Festival also announced the government’s approval of a P1.4-billion tourism infrastructure package for the province and cited Albay as the country’s fastest rising tourist destination.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said the two vital projects under the package are the Cagraray Circumferential Road in Bacacay town worth P440 million, and a road that directly links Albay with Donsol, Sorsogon, home to the world famous Butanding or sperm whale, P870 million.
Salceda has pursued an aggressive tourism campaign for the province, dubbed as ‘Albay Rising.’ He said they have now shifted their focus on tourism and agriculture after significant accomplishments have been made in the fields of health, education, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
Jimenez acknowledged Salceda’s all-out tourism development drive and noted that the governor’s initiatives have boosted Albay’s economic activity, and as a result, posted a 17 percent growth in 2011, higher than the 15 percent national growth rate for the year.
“You need 24/7 airport to cater the big influx of both foreign and domestic tourists making Bicol as the fastest growing region in the country. That’s why President Aquino is prioritizing the immediate com-pletion of Bicol International Airport in 2014,” Jimenez said.
“So two years from now, we’re expecting that this airport will be finished and operational sooner than the people expected. Bicol will be having an all weather airport now,” the DOT chief said.
DOT Bicol regional office records show that the top visiting foreign tourists in Albay last year were Americans, followed by Japanese, Koreans, Canadians and Australians.
Bicol region is one of the five growth corridors identified during the incumbency of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s super region development strategy which covers Regions 4B, 5, 6, 7 and 8 including the provinces of Palawan, Romblon, Camiguin and Siargao Island. These places are known for their natural wonders and rich cultural heritage.
In 2011, national tourist arrivals reached 3.9 million according to Jimenez and in 2012 they’re targeting 4.6 million tourists.
With the completion of Bicol International Airport in 2014, Legazpi City in Albay, the regional center site and economic hub of Bicol as well as gateway or corridor in Luzon including Visayas and Mindanao regions will be serving 7.1 million people travellers including Samar Island.