Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mount Mayon creates a raise of tourism in the Phillipines!

Richard Paraguya was burning up the phone lines, booking foreign and local tourists keen to see a volcano in the central Philippines that began spewing lava, ash and rocks the size of cars in mid-July.

The rumbling of Mount Mayon, the most active of 22 volcanoes in the Southeast Asian country, prompted volcanologists to raise the alert level to 3 on a 1-5 scale.

The government has told thousands of people living on Mayon's slopes to evacuate a danger zone of 6 km (4 miles) around the summit but hundreds of tourists, armed with cameras and tripods, were coming in droves to watch.

'It's really an amazing sight at night,' said Paraguya of Royal Quest Tours in Daraga town, where the ruins of a Roman Catholic church stand as the only structure to survive a mighty eruption in 1814.

'While people were supposed to be fleeing from an erupting volcano, we're getting swamped with inquiries and bookings for even an overnight stay to view Mayon.'

This week, Paraguya brought two busloads of Filipino tourists to one of 11 sites identified by the local tourism department as safe spots to view Mayon's slow eruption.

Maria Ravanilla, the tourism department's regional director, said there had been a marked rise in tourist arrivals in Legazpi City, the political, social and business hub of Albay province.

'Our hotels and inns have been reporting more than 50 percent occupancy when normally they would only be registering about 30 percent to 36 percent during this period,' said Ravanilla.
She said the two daily flights from Manila were packed with American, European and South Korean tourists, who were staying for an average of two nights.

The government of Legazpi City has put up streamers and posters to encourage tourists to 'dare an active volcano' or view 'the spectacular display of beauty in fury'.

Ravanilla said more tourists were on the way as volcano experts warned of a possible full-scale eruption within weeks.

'We're expecting occupancy rates to shoot up to 80 percent once the big bang comes,' she said, noting the arrivals during this year's volcanic activity were much larger than for eruptions in 2000 and 2001.

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

Mayon, in the central Bicol region, has erupted about 50 times over the last 400 years. The most destructive was in 1841 when lava flows buried a town, killing 1,200 people.

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