Friday, June 23, 2006

Active volcanoes attract tourism!

The country’s 22 active volcanoes can be developed into major tourist sites where visitors to the Philippines can witness for themselves the primal and deadly spectacle of volcanic eruptions — from a safe distance, of course, and with adequate safety nets. This was the proposal put forward by Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Director Renato Solidum during a weekly news forum at the Rembrandt Hotel in Quezon City.

"Tourists can watch from a distance, safely, an erupting volcano," Solidum said, adding that part of this "volcanic" tourism drive would involve distributing maps marking mountains which are also volcanoes so tourists will be able to plan trips. Besides being possible tourist destinations, active volcanoes also provide surrounding communities with mineral-rich soil that promise bountiful harvests for farmers, Solidum added.

The attraction of volcanoes as tourist sites has been proven by the high visitor traffic to such scenic spots as Taal volcano in Tagaytay City in Batangas, Mt. Mayon in Albay, Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales, Mt. Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin and Mt. Bulusan in Sorsogon. When in Zambales, nature treks through Mt. Pinatubo are a popular tourist offering, as are trinkets and items crafted from the lahar that poured down Mt. Pinatubo’s slopes after the June 1991 eruption. A visit to Tagaytay City is not complete unless one crosses Taal Lake and takes a horseback ride close to the crater rim, though such trips are banned when Taal volcano shows signs of activity.

Former information minister Gregorio Cendaña said the idea of inviting tourists to watch the "fury of nature" was adopted during the reign of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Under the tourism program of the Marcos administration, the then Ministry of Tourism arranged travels to volcanic areas during eruptions, the rationale behind which was explained by Cendaña: "Watching an erupting volcano is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

He added that tourists then spend their hard-earned money to get closer to nature, flocking to beaches and mountain resorts that are open year-round and, of course, for the chance to watch the natural light-show put on by erupting volcanoes. Cendaña recalled that, when Taal erupted in the 1960s, tourists flocked to the site of the eruption to see it up close, despite many casualties claimed by the volcano’s fury.

"It must be included in the tourism promotion brochures in the country," Cendaña said of the country’s volcanoes. In other countries that sit on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the area where the most amount of volcanic activity in the world is concentrated, trips to active volcanoes are a regular feature of tourists’ travel itineraries.

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