Sound Advice for Better Tourism in Iloilo

Aug 7, 2013 by

Back in February of 2012, I published a blog with the title Why is the Tourism in Iloilo Weak and have since received numerous feedbacks all suggesting very helpful points on how to strengthen this aspect of our city. What’s fascinating is the fact that a lot of Ilonggos have great (and doable) ideas on how to better our city’s tourism. Maybe all it takes is collaborative efforts from the different agencies of the government, NGOs and ultimately, the Ilonggo public.

Here’s one extensive reply I have received from a reader who prefers to be called Ladykillington. Ladykillington posted this reply on February 16, 2012 and it contains some really valuable insights we could reflect on and perhaps materialize all for the greatness of our quaint little city:


If I am from manila, and can afford to sneak out to Visayas for a weekend trip, I don’t want to go to the mall or another concrete jungle. For visual consumption, I want a unique picture that would come out of the trip, yung ma-curious ang mga facebook friends ko: “diin ini?”

So how can Iloilo improve?

 19th CENTURY TEXTILE INDUSTRY. My great grandmother was a weaver and the mothers before her. There is ample documentation on Muelle Loney’s, the British Vice Consul’s journals on his impression on Iloilo (see also Ambeth Ocampo’s papers). There were ships and galleons docked on our shores and our local goods exported to Europe. Though he was attribute to cause the demise of our local weaving, it is quite interesting how Singer sewing machines became prevalent in households and the cheap red tartan patadyongs. I could go on and on. It is a rich history not most Ilonggo’s can speak to because it is not drilled in school. Ilonggo’s should know this story by heart like how England know their Royal family.


MARITIME CAPITAL. Another missed opportunity is owning our maritime history. In the old times, the western coast of Panay were shipbuilders. This is a great brand synergy with our Paraw festival found in the brochure at DOT. In international terms it would a Hobie Sail racing. Pero wala tayong matinong public marina (apart from Manila Yacht Club), that can be postcard-perfect. Imagine if one is looking either from Guimaras or Iloilo, you can see leisure boats docked on the water? Yung parang Sydney Harbor ang dating. We don’t necessarily have to ambitiously populate our ports with luxury boats, but at least we should be engaged in activities that capitalizes on our affinity with the water; be it in some form of sports, efficient water transportation, restaurants by the harbor, floating restaurants, we should be familiar with pontoons, have a jogging path/bike lanes wrapping the around the ports. Our piers should be well maintained and not disgusting so our way of life could ease in to chic coastal living.

Photo (c)

Photo (c)

MANSIONS. I must say we have a better track record in terms of heritage conservation of our ancestral houses than in Manila. A lot of structures in Manila are sadly getting torn down by new developments. With the small size of our city, we can still pull off a cohesive tour on heritage houses to present Spanish colonial life. If local government offers incentives to owners of these houses for long term preservation, we can have mansion tours like that in Newport Rhode Island. Out there it costs $12 entrance to explore a mansion, and they have about 10 houses in that little town which thrives on tourism off of the legacy of the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. (Now that my thoughts are coming together, why can’t Iloilo position itself like a Rhode Island of the Visayas? Rhode Island has lobsters, crabs and seafood. So, do we. They have Brown University and RI school of design, we have a few Unis to boast. Maritime industry – check. Mansions – check. Industrialists – check. Local festivals – check)

The Lizares mansion (Angelicum School) photo by (c)

The Lizares mansion (Angelicum School) photo by (c)

CHURCHES. My overall favorite is the San Joaquin church. Not just the church but also its aesthetically landscaped plaza. Our churches on the western coast are beautiful and the road is a pleasant drive too. So I hope local governments are resolute on preserving the quaintness of the entire package because I lament the one in Dumangas; they modernized the plaza by putting a covered steel gym right smack across the gothic church.

ILOILO-GUIMARAS. Traveling from Iloilo to Guimaras should be inviting and an easy breezy commute. If infrastructures in Guimaras cannot rival Boracay –and it doesn’t have to– it can be positioned that tourists can dip in the pristine beaches of Guimaras during the day, and be back in Iloilo City in the evening for the urban experience. This can only happen kung reliable mag-commute. Yung parang nag-fe-ferry ka lang sa Hongkong. It has to be a quintessential hop on/hop off experience.

Another idea is offer Guimaras like a national park with campsites. This way, there’s a rugged adventure aspect to it. Develop some easy, medium, and hard trails. Zero tolerance to plastic littering para malinis nag reputation ng island. Sustainable environmental protection, na mapapa-wow sila na achievable pala nag ganito sa Pilipinas. I think only Palawan has set this standard.


TAXI DRIVERS. Some Iloilo taxi drivers are unethical when they can tell nga nagapangayaw ka lang. Nakakapikon kung turista ka and not familiar with the city. A way to prevent them from ripping off people is to provide flat rate options (and this should be posted inside the cab), and an effective customer complaint hotline that will penalize them for violations immediately. Because remember, we are assuming short-term visitors, so they can’t be bothered to spend their visit being harassed.

BIKE FRIENDLY COLLATERALS. Wala pang image ng Pilipinas of mass cycling i.e. like in Denmark. If you have a vintage-looking bike exploring old mansions, it can be a picture-perfect prop. Or if visitors can just hop on a bike and be allowed to bring them to Guimaras. Bike paths or cycling-dedicated streets should be planned not just for tourists but for locals as well.  Iloilo city is pocket-sized and could easily be explored provided there are bike friendly maps for independent explorers.We should assume that not all of them can speak Hiligaynon, so just empower them with tourists maps that will give them several districts to explore on their own. Of course with this, there has to be some small businesses for bike shop rentals endorsed by the local government.


loilo Folding Bikers in front of Jaro Belfry during  their Bike  Hour night ride around Iloilo City on March 20, 2013. Photo by JAY PASAPORTE (c)

loilo Folding Bikers in front of Jaro Belfry during their Bike Hour night ride around Iloilo City on March 20, 2013. Photo by JAY PASAPORTE (c)

ALTERNATIVE TO WHAT MANILA OR CEBU OR ISLANDS HAVE TO OFFER. Cebu already has first dibs on the oldest city and Magellan’s discovery of the Philippine islands. Bacolod owns the romantic imagery of sugar barons and plantations. And of course, Boracay is Boracay. It is impossible to compete by local cuisine, kasi all over the philippines manamit man tanan. Kahit may edge pa tayo sa batchoy, pancit molo, seafood and inihaw, may pambato man ang iban nga region that are equally yummy.

We should make the tourists feel that they don’t need family connections or an insider to help them get around in Iloilo. Tourists should conjure a convenient trip in their minds. We should put high value on their limited time being here. Make them feel intellectually enriched, smarter and leave them with the thought they have experienced something different when they depart the city.

We don’t have to start from scratch. Kanugon, we have a dignified airport, the first impression is already taken care of. Now we just have to follow through and be consistent once the visitor is in the city. Look at Camsur, ang hirap magbiyahe dun, but people are saving up for a trip there because the place has established the image of adventure sports with their wake boarding facility. Can you imagine if there is something similar to offer in Iloilo? Of course, it doesn’t have to be wake boarding. We can work with what we have — encourage Paraw racing a casual leisure, or kayaking… I’m not sure if kite sailing is achievable in Anhawan area. Anyway, we can position Iloilo as a water sports mecca that’s only 1 hour plane ride away from almost anywhere, Manila, Cebu, Bacolod, Bohol or Boracay. There’s no reason why it should be omitted in anyone’s itinerary. If anything it should be considered to be a base to get to anywhere, if one is planning a full on Visayas adventure. Along with this, tani Guimaras ma develop nga daw annex lang sang Iloilo.

Lastly, our city is an old world. People travel to get to Vigan for at least 5 hours just to experience 3 blocks of the so called old world. Here, we have decadent mansions and are really something to behold. It’s so Great Gatsby-like. Ara na sa atubang naton and we take them for granted. The heritage scattered all over the city is a testament of our glorious past. I wish Ilonggos can passionately speak of its architecture and history. God forbid, Smallville is not the be all, end all. Why hasn’t anyone thought of rehabilitating an old mansion into a modern club/restaurant inside or an event venue inside? Have you heard of clubs in Manhattan that were formerly churches? The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston is really just a big house, pero kung makapromote sila, they can poach the visitors of the bigger Fine Arts Museum (20x their size) across the street. Kasi talagang binibida nila ang profile ng fabled Brahmin heiress and her collections. Tourist interest are piqued by what it was like to be like in the aristocratic class at the turn of the past century. They also turned the place not just a museum, but a cafe, and concert hall as well.

A brilliant friend of mine in Cebu writes a WEEKLY feature of things to do in Cebu. He outlines events, reviews of places to eat, what people do, and where they go. May social networking aspect pa. To an outsider, it gives an impression that their city got their act together; it is very current, and it is consistent with their modern make-over as a city. Especially that they have an international airport. Iya na sang Cebu ang cosmopolitanism of the south.

I also forgot to mention our countryside. It is actually like a scenery out of an Amorsolo painting when you happen to be on a long stretch of undisturbed horizon. When the harvest season arrives, and the grass is golden, a song plays in my head (Sting’s Field of Gold). You drive across the Andalucia country side in Spain, it stretches and stretches of olive plantation, may payag-payag man sila. They promote this scenery as a scenic drive ara gid na sa mga guidebooks nila. Wala nila gina-suyaan ang katamnan nila.

So look at what we have, on the Western Coast, you have the grand churches and plaza hopping. On the Eastern Coast, we can emphasize the bucolic landscape drive and a RORO gateway to Bacolod with the Naluoyan port out there. In Iloilo, we can position air, land and sea adventure and the Old World. In the city, there are facilities to conduct business for those who are working remotely. I apologize for lack of knowledge on the inland towns, I honestly haven’t ventured in Dingle, Calinog, Lambunao, Maasin. I imagine the siniguelas come from them. I know that Dingle was a significant military base during the WW2 because that’s where they trained our lolos who sadly experienced the Death March in Bataan during the Japanese occupation. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are Japanese blood mixed out there because after the war, a lot of them escaped to the mountains.

We should showcase our past when everybody else is crazy about condominiums and modern developments. Unless it is a Phillip Starck building, then we really should not get too excited. Kung modern development lang, I’d rather have a modern waste segregation plant to control waste disposal for the city and keep it a world-class standard of cleanliness (Manila is struggling with this). We can work with what we have, and promote it like it’s nobody else’s business.

After all my inspired posting, I think to achieve my wish list is to mobilize Ilonggos to start in elementary education. Programs must have emphasis on history in all levels. Bata pa kailangan ara na sa consciousness nila ang appreciation. When kids have history related activities in school, maumid ang mga parents – hitting two birds with one stone.

This should not be an endeavour exclusive to tourism, HRM students or travel organizations. Embracing our heritage should be everyone’s business, so as a people, we can set our Iloilo apart from other towns/cities. Kasi when you understand your history, you can make sense of its structure and you work on what you have with reasonable capital. It wouldn’t be necessary to copy Manila. Grabe pa man abi ang pride naton sa education kay accesible kita sa mga university, so we have to show it off by running a smart city : )

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  1. jrlenz

    No. Problem #1 = Power stability.

    Power stability attracts businesses and investors. The reality is that the local attractions (at least within the city itself, Dinagyang excepted) are less likely to attract tourists from other places than say, Boracay or Palawan. The “smallness” of the city then becomes a detraction rather than attraction, as people would be more likely to vacation in a larger city such as Manila, Cebu, or somewhere abroad.

    Iloilo is more likely to attract “dual-purpose” travelers — those who are travelling for business, but stay a little longer because of the wonderful characteristics of the city. As a foreigner, I have not felt more “at home” anywhere else in the world, despite having lived in 7 US states, 3 other foreign countries, and even my own hometown.

    To capitalize on these travelers — those who might enjoy a tourist-style experience while traveling on business — first the city must attract businesses. Unfortunately, right now, the power situation is actually driving businesses *away* from the city. If we fix the infrastructure problems here, we can definitely count on more tourism because outsiders will have a much more positive view of Iloilo and will share them with their friends, families, and followers.

    • bobby

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :) When the coal-fired powerplant was built (after a long battle with some groups who were against the project), there was an assurance of better power stability. More recently, however, outages are once again occurring on a regular basis and Ilonggos on social media are expressing frustration & disappointment about the seemingly unchanging power problem in Iloilo. Let’s hope these observations get through the right people and listen to our views as well. Thanks again. :)

  2. Idol75

    “We should make the tourists feel that they don’t need family connections or an insider to help them get around in Iloilo.” This is something that our LGU should work hard to achieve!

  3. Eiram

    i truly agree!!! everything i wish and hope and pray have been articulated by this wonderful lady. we need not wait for the government to initiate many of her suggestions…out there in many cities she mentioned, private and enterprising individuals started these special interests…we need educated and smart people who realize that our heritage and culture is a mine of gold…not only should we preserve and protect them, we should also “exploit” them to make sure the future generation knows where they came from.

  4. nurse_on_dutyif we had siperferry, nroges navigation and sulpicio lines once a week plying gensan ilo route .theres no question on the feasibility of having gensan ilo flights for maybe at least every other day. there’s a lot of ilonggos in this area. sana mapag bigyan ..kung feasible nga ang dvo-ilo na konti lng ilonggo ..why not gensan ilo hehehe

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