FEELING THE PINCH: Guimaras’ biz sector reeling from tragedy

HUNDREDS of Guimaras-bound passengers await to board the Fast Cat vessel that is temporarily serving the Iloilo-Guimaras route due to the suspension of pump boat trips in the aftermath of the Iloilo Strait tragedy that claimed 31 lives. (F. A. Angelo)

By: Emme Rose Santiagudo 

THE once vibrant tourism industry of the province of Guimaras is now haunted by one of the worst tragedies recorded in the sailing history of the province.

More than a week after the Iloilo Strait Tragedy, the business sector of Guimaras already feels the pinch of the tragedy, especially in the tourism industry of the island-province.

A new destination in the town of San Lorenzo in Guimaras is among the many businesses indirectly affected by the recent tragedy.

Charlie Losañes, acting manager of Fatima Farms, shared in an interview with Daily Guardian that they recently had their soft opening on July 1, 2019.

Business was good with around 80-100 guests on the first Saturday of August, according to Losanes.

But after the tragedy that killed 31 people on board three ill-fated pump boats happened on Aug 3, the number of guests visiting their establishment has been dwindling.

“Before, we are expecting 80 to 100 guests every Saturday but sang natabo to gamay na lang gid kakadto and kis-a wala na gid gani,” Losañes said.

Losañes added that almost all resorts and business establishments in San Lorenzo have the same problem.

Now, he fears that the tragedy might discourage future guests from visiting key attractions not only in San Lorenzo but in the whole province.

“We already expect that the number of guests will go down because of the incident. Safety gid ang priority and kay amo to ang natabo sa Guimaras, ang isipon nila nga indi na safe magtravel pakadto Guimaras,” Losañes lamented.

Fatima Farms is a haven for tourists and devotees of Our Lady of Fatima. The establishment will formally be opened to the public in October 2019.

Following the cancellation of boat trips in Guimaras, Losañes cannot help but fear its effect to their industry since Iloilo City is the main gateway of guests and tourists.

“Aside from the fact that most of our guests are really from Iloilo, the jump off point of tourists is from Iloilo City. They ride on motor boats and dock either in Buenavista or Jordan,” he stressed.

Transportation to and from Guimaras remains a challenge as pump boat trips remain suspended after the sea mishaps. Passengers are dependent on roll on-roll off ships and fast crafts that were temporarily allowed to serve the Iloilo-Guimaras route.

Losañes said that they already had talks with the tourism office in the hopes that interventions will be done to help the affected sectors.

Provincial Tourism Officer of Guimaras Liberty Ferrer said that the whole tourism sector has already felt the domino effect of the recent tragedy.

“The number one affected is the transportation sector. In the sea transport alone, 104 pump boats are affected,” she said.

According to Ferrer, there are also cancellations in the accommodation establishments in Guimaras.

The effect has even gone down to other supporting businesses for tourism, she added.

Ang mga affected stakeholders ang aton accommodation establishments and tour guides who are expecting tourists na-cancel na din. Affected man ang aton other supporting businesses for tourism like products in our pasalubong centers,” she said.

As to the number of tourist arrivals, Ferrer said they are waiting for the data but based on reports of the accommodation sector, she noted that “there are lesser tourists that are going to Guimaras.”

While the province is not fully dependent on tourism, Ferrer said the tourism sector still contributes to the overall economy of the province.

“The major economic sectors of the province are agriculture, fishery and tourism. Tourism is complementing the other sectors. We cannot say that the province is totally dependent on tourism because of the other two identified economic sectors but we contribute as well sa economic benefit from the tourism activities,” she explained.

According to Ferrer, it is not only the tourism sector but the whole province of Guimaras that is affected by the tragedy.

“We cannot deny nga affected ang tanan not only tourism but the whole province of Guimaras and even ang pumuluyo naton because the incident is traumatic. Just like what our governor said, gapangayo kami bulig para ang tanan nga sectors mabalik sa normal,” she said.

Currently, Ferrer said their office is already in talks with the Department of Tourism (DOT) 6 for possible discussion on how to help the tourism sector bounce back from the tragedy.

“We have asked for a conversation with DOT and we will find ways to on how to help the livelihood of the affected tourism sectors,” she noted.