by Joyce Ann L. Rocamora
CAMIGUIN, Northern Mindanao — Keen on attracting the growing dive tourism market, the first-ever dive festival in the south has been launched in Camiguin, the northern tip of Mindanao, indicating the province and the region’s readiness to accommodate divers.
Bo Mancao, a Cebu-based international dive photographer, said “a couple more years” and the volcanic island could position itself as a “top diving destination in Asia.”
“Camiguin has it all. It has great muck diving where you look for the rare creatures. It has awesome reefs and good dropoffs, and in the right season, it has super clear waters — that makes a good mix for a dive holiday,” Mancao said on the sidelines of the 1st Camiguin Dive Festival in Mambajao.
The dive fest, a two-month long event pumped with a flurry of dive packages at discounted rates, underwater photography competition, and a province-wide campaign on sustainable tourism, runs until August.
Depending on what one fancies — freediving or scuba diving — this underwater sport is a fairly expensive hobby. Classes to get the required dive certification ranges from PHP20,000 to PHP25,000. The regular dive package for licensed divers, on the other hand, costs between PHP1,200 and PHP2,500 per dive site.
Throughout the two months, divers get to enjoy a 30-percent discount on each package and about 15 percent less on introductory dive classes.
“We are spearheading the first-ever Camiguin Dive Festival promoting the island’s rich, unique, diverse and pristine dive sites. This is in line with our vision to develop Camiguin as a destination that meets global standards of sustainable and responsible tourism,” Camiguin Governor Maria Luisa Romualdo said.
During the grand festival launch on June 23, international dive photographers and professional divers were treated by the provincial government with a trip to the Black Coral Forest near the Medan Island off Mambajao.
Mancao, the event’s official underwater photographer, said the view underneath is as breathtaking as all the dives he had in Camiguin.
“The dive was very good, I’m always happy to dive in Camiguin,” he said. “The dive industry in the Philippines is getting a lot stronger now. We can see it in other dive destinations now and I think Camiguin would be the best next dive destination in the Philippines.”
Diving-wise, the island is in fact now ready to accept an influx of international and local dive tourists. “It’s been ready for years now. Divers have been coming here for some time already. It’s not just that popular yet,” he said.
According to the Department of Tourism (DOT) 10 (Northern Mindanao) Director Marie Elaine Unchuan, the department has already accredited six dive shops on the island.
“The PCSSD (Philippine Commission on Sports and Scuba Diving) actually inspected everything and gave certification so we can really invite people with confidence because we know the divers would have good diving experience,” she told reporters in an interview.
The advantage in dive tourism is that divers often stay longer, she noted. And the longer a visitor stays in a place, the more vibrant the tourism industry.
“When the dive groups come here after they dive, they’ll roam around the island because they’re not allowed to get on a flight within 24 hours. The good thing with Camiguin is it’s an ecotourism destination. It has beaches, mountain, hot springs, and even cold springs,” she said.
Long before the official promotions and the festival, Camiguin has already established a name recall among Europeans — particularly Germans and Russian divers — through word of mouth.
“We have Germans, French, and Russians diving here, and of course, the domestic divers and we’re getting a lot of rave reviews from dive photographers we’ve invited in the past,” Unchuan said.
“We’re very confident that a lot more people will get enticed to dive in Camiguin,” she added.
The diving event is in line with the national government’s goal to develop and promote the Philippines as a premier diving and business hub in Asia.
Last year, the DOT even hosted the largest dive exposition in the Philippines. (PNA)