PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan – With the Puerto Princesa Underground River being named as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature, more tourists are expected to flock to Palawan's "City in a Forest".
Puerto Princesa's city tourism officer Rebecca Labit told ABS-CBNnews.com there has already been a noticeable increase in the number of tourists to the city since last year.
In January alone, Labit said Puerto Princesa recorded 60,000 tourist arrivals, representing 15% of the total tourist arrivals in the Philippines for the month.
"In the last 5 years, we were not even in the top 20 (cities for tourist arrivals). Nung 2009, we were number 10. In 2010, we were 7. We're still waiting for the 2011 figures, but I hope we are able to climb a little higher. It's not impossible for us to be in the Top 5," she said.
Labit noted the Puerto Princesa Underground River's popularity soared after it was the subject of a campaign for it to become one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
Led by the city government and Mayor Edward Hagedorn, the campaign drew the support of many Filipinos and even President Benigno Aquino. The efforts were a success, with the Puerto Princesa Underground River officially declared as one of the winners of the New 7 Wonders of Nature Saturday evening.
"Malaking tulong ‘yung pagiging New Wonder of Nature. The President himself campaigned for it, and the entire country campaigned. ABS-CBN campaigned for us. We didn't really realize the campaign for the 7 New Wonders of the World is technically a campaign for tourism," Labit said.
At the current rate of the increase in tourists, Puerto Princesa is hoping to attract 1.2 million tourists by 2014.
"By 2025, we would achieve the 2.5 million mark in tourist arrivals. The city continues to grow in terms of development. There are 20 new hotels being constructed in the city. We used to have 40+ accommodations, now we have a hundred accommodations, ranging from small pension houses, inns to hotels," she said.
Tourism is also helped by the fact that airlines have increased the number of flights to Puerto Princesa. Last year, there were only 11 flights to Puerto Princesa. By the first quarter of 2012, the number of flights rose to 20.
On Friday, low-cost carrier AirAsia began its Puerto Princesa-Clark flights - increasing the number of Puerto Princesa flights to 21.
"Our earliest flight now is 6:45 a.m. It used to be that our earliest flight was 9 a.m. The last flight used to be 3 p.m. and now the last flight is 9 p.m.," Labit noted.
While other Philippine cities worry about attracting tourists, Puerto Princesa has the enviable problem of having too many tourists.
But Labit said the city government, led by Hagedorn, is committed to the protecting the city's environment and natural resources.
"The vision of the city is to become a model of sustainable development as a local government, anchored on the three principles: protect, rehabilitate and provide for maximum and intelligent use of the remaining resources. It's a tough challenge, while everyone else is having mining, cyanide fishing--kami walang ganun. Mahirap din ang pag-angat namin, but we believe in the vision," she said.