Saturday, 19 December 2009

Tourist arrivals up to watch Mayon ‘fireworks’

By Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines – Military troops evacuated on Friday about 12,000 people from villages at the base of the country’s most active volcano as a smoldering Mayon showed signs of a major eruption after days of shooting ash plumes and spilling lava.

Albay provincial authorities declared a round-the-clock ban on anyone being within the 8-kilometer danger zone around the 2,460-meter mountain.

But tourists are flocking to watch the volcano’s stunning fireworks.


Since Mayon’s heightened activity was reported on Monday, tourists have been drawn to the area but the provincial government is not keen on encouraging them to come, said Salceda.

“Disaster tourism is certainly not within the contemplation of the provincial development strategy even if disaster risk reduction and tourism are integral components,” he said.

Salceda said the sudden surge of tourists is an unintended consequence of a volcanic eruption.

Panoramic view

Tourists have been drawn to the Ligñon Hill Observatory in Legazpi City, where the Phivolcs offices are, which offers a full view of Mayon and a 360-degree view of the city and neighboring Daraga town.

There have also been increased visits by nongovernment organizations and socio-civic organizations to evacuation centers as well as heightened media coverage of Albay.

Salceda said there have been spillover effects for other provincial destinations like Misibis, Embarcadero, and the Tiwi and Manito geothermal sites.

However, the estimated revenues of P800,000 from around 2,500 tourists who spend P1,000 daily cannot match the P1.5 million spent daily for 9,946 families housed in temporary shelters, he said. [Hey, but that covers more than half of the cost--shouldn't we be thankful instead? --WUIP]

Beauty and fury

Mayon has captivated tourists with its irony of combined beauty and fury, said Amy Detera of the Department of Tourism in Bicol.

“The tourist influx was so great in the 1993 volcanic eruption, which killed 79 people, that there was a shortage of hotel rooms and tourists had to be accommodated even in hospitals,” she said.

Gail Narramore, founder of the Tiwala Kids and Communities, a charity organization based in Albay, said Mayon looked stunning at night.

“It looks like a Christmas tree,” said the British-South African missionary.

But several travel agencies were wary of pushing their packaged tours to Albay and Sorsogon because of the reported threats of a major eruption.

Bicol tourism director Nini Ravanilla said that while it is necessary to report disasters, projecting a safe environment for tourists would also reap much benefit.

Most active of 22 volcanoes

The Philippines lies on the “Ring of Fire,” a belt of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean that is also prone to earthquakes.

Mayon is the most active of 22 volcanoes in the country, having erupted more than 50 times in the last four centuries.

The most destructive eruption came in February 1841 when lava flows buried a town and killed 1,200 people. The last time Mayon erupted was in 2006.

With reports from Rey Nasol and Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon; AFP and Reuters

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