BATANGAS CITY—Four years ago, the governor of this southern Luzon province summed up Batangas tourism here in five words: “Batangas is being left behind.”
Batangueños may not find those words by Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto in 2008 encouraging, especially since those were said before attendees of the first province-wide tourism spectacle called the Ala-Eh Festival.
In Batangan Tagalog, ala means “well” while eh serves as a particle that is pronounced with emphasis. So to call Batangas’ annual festival as ala eh, in the typical way Batanguenos stress their words, has an explicit message: well, come here!
So for the fifth time running, Batangas presents to its provincemates and to Filipino and foreign tourists the Ala-Eh Festival, banking on such festivity to bring back Batangas into Filipinos’ recall of the province as a proximate tourist hotspot.
There are actually numbers to back up Santos-Recto’s 2008 observation: three rounds of domestic tourism surveys by the National Statistics Office (NSO) show steep declines in the number of tourists heading to Batangas. The biggest gainer in these surveys was poverty-stricken Camarines Sur, what with its CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC) in Pili and the pristine beaches of Caramoan municipality.
And while the province’s tourism slogan says “all here, so near,” tourist destinations that needed plane rides from Metro Manila —Cebu, Negros Oriental, and even Lanao del Norte— have outranked Batangas in terms of tourist volumes.
The numbers from those surveys just confirmed what the two-term governor had heard from Filipino tourists prior to the first Ala Eh festival: “Whenever they mention those provinces with beautiful tourist spots the first things that come to their mind were Palawan and Bohol.”
This Calabarzon province that’s now 431 years old has tourism as part of the Santos-Recto provincial government’s socio-economic platform, whose acronym is called HEARTS (health, education, agriculture, roads, tourism, security). But even as the provincial government has yet to produce empirical impact assessments of the number of tourists the annual festival has hauled, the show must go on.
So is inviting —or begging— people to come.
The week-long festival is usually hosted by a designated municipality or city, such as the case of this year’s host Tanauan City. So starting December 1, participating municipalities and cities then go to the festival’s host to participate in activities like a province-wide beauty pageant, “The biggest” contest (such as for fruits and vegetables), and the culminating float parade and street dance competition on December 8. There are also photo exhibits, a film screening, a dog show, a ceremony to light a Christmas tree, and a trade fair by Batangueno entrepreneurs.
These Ala Eh Festival activities are the come-ons, but not the real showcases like the beaches, Taal Volcano, and many more. This year’s festival also comes in a time that Recto is gunning for a third gubernatorial term this May 2013, that the Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office is just over a year implementing a provincial tourism development plan that was crafted in 2011, and that the Department of Tourism has included some Batangueño municipalities, like Taal and Nasugbu towns, as target sites for what the agency’s new tourism development plan calls tourism clusters.
But a tourist’s recall of Batangas as a tourist’s haven remains the barometer, whether there is empirical data or not after each festival, or there’s a need to pronounce ala eh the Batangueno way in luring tourists.