The year 2012 is going to be filled with preparations and projects for the Puerto Princesa Underground River’s emergence as an international tourism star.
With the underground jewel’s inclusion on the list of the new seven wonders of nature—a list that would be finalized in the first quarter of the new year following the verification of votes—the already rising number of tourists there is expected to increase even more.
This is why, according to Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, the government is focused on improving and increasing infrastructure to cope with the influx of visitors and the expectation that their numbers will further rise this year. Protecting the natural features of Puerto Princesa is also a priority, he added.
Paje said that following the underground river’s inclusion on the list of new seven wonders of nature, the current booking stands at 1,500 a day, but the capacity of the tourist facilities at present is only 800. The number of bookings is almost twice what could be accommodated, he noted.
But as big as this number is, “that can even double,” he said, especially when the final list of the New Seven Wonders that includes the underground river is officially confirmed. Even airlines are flying bigger airplanes to Palawan because of the number of tourists to Puerto Princesa, he noted.
The list of new seven wonders of nature, announced in November, was considered provisional because the organizers still had to validate votes received by the winners in a global poll. The final announcement is expected early in 2012, and Philippine officials are confident of the underground river’s place on the list.
Paje said that as far as he knew, the organizers would not release the ranking of all seven winners, but he believes the underground river was among the top vote-getters.
Because of the visitors coming in droves and with more expected to arrive, Paje said, President Aquino has made the Puerto Princesa Underground River a major Cabinet agenda item during its last meeting and ordered the expansion of the airport there to be an international gateway for tourists, especially those coming from such big markets as Xiamen, Shanghai and Kaoshiung.
The Department of Tourism was instructed to develop plans for new hotels as well. The administration is also hoping for the private sector to come in.
But at the same time, the government wants to ensure that the star of the show—Palawan’s own natural wonders—will not be destroyed.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources will play the crucial role of protecting the underground river even as the area around it is developed, according to Paje.
“We’ve been instructed by the President to ensure that as we expand and accommodate more tourists, it will not damage the environment or cause damage to natural features,” he said in a phone interview.
“Even if we would want tourists to come, we don’t want to commercialize it. We just want to make the transportation and infrastructure very efficient and tourist-friendly,” he added.
Paje also said the underground river’s designation as one of seven new wonders in the world is sure to put it on the tourism map of the globe.
He noted that when China’s Great Wall and India’s Taj Mahal were named among the seven wonders of the world, they became top destinations and highlights of their country. It is hard to think of China without thinking of the Great Wall, while thinking of India immediately conjures an image of the Taj Mahal, he said.