FEATURE STORY: Ilocos Norte bags second consecutive ATOP-DOT Pearl Award

LAOAG CITY – For the second year in a row, Ilocos Norte bagged the second place for Best Tourism-Oriented LGU (local government unit) in the Pearl Awards sponsored by the 18th Association of Tourism Officers in the Philippines and Department of Tourism (ATOP-DOT). bagged the second place for Best Tourism-Oriented LGU (local government unit) in the Pearl Awards sponsored by the 18th Association of Tourism Officers in the Philippines and Department of Tourism (ATOP-DOT).

Held in Iloilo City last October 4-7, the Pearl Awards was part of the ATOP National Convention, an event that brings together tourism officers and showcasing premier tourism practices, products, and services from all over the country.

Ilocos Norte tied with the Province of Samar for first runner-up, while Davao del Norte bagged first place.

“We dedicate this award to all the hardworking private and public stakeholders, our PGIN family, and everyone in Ilocos Norte who have been supporting the tourism programs of Governor Imee R. Marcos,” Tourism Officer Aian Raquel wrote in his Facebook account.

Raquel said that INTO is “truly honored to be with the best tourism provinces in the country and that “we are committed to continuously work for all Ilocanos and to win bigger Pearl Award next year.”

Xavier Ruiz, tourism operations officer II at the INTO said that from the very start, they were told during the screening that it was a very difficult competition, hence the sponsors decided to award two first runners-up.

Ruiz also added that a strong factor in the awarding process is “how [the local tourism industry] benefits people from across the province regardless of their level in society, their gender and whether they’re directly or indirectly involved in tourism…”

He added that legislations, such as codes in tourism, investment, cultural, and environmental, are among the criteria in screening the competitors.

Ruiz said these legislations have been in place in Ilocos Norte for years.

For example, the province’s cultural policy under Provincial Ordinance No. 041-2015 implements nine strategies for the protection and conservation of cultural properties, including the establishment of new art venues; training of for artists and a cultural workforce; and promotion of the province’s cultural sites, products, and events.

Ruiz also cited the Media Incentives Desk (MID) under the Office of the Governor, which pioneered film tourism in the province through an exchange of benefits and promotion coordinated among local government units (LGUs), private establish-ments, and production companies looking to film within Ilocos Norte.

Other criteria were infra-structure, demonstrated with the province’s master plan created by Palafox Associates in 2010, and public-private partnership, which are a staple in provincial events as INTO partners with private establish-ments and organizations like the Ilocos Norte Travel Agencies Association (INTAA), Bakers and Restaurants Association of Ilocos Norte (BRAIN), and Hostels and Restaurants Association of Laoag and Ilocos Norte (HARALIN) for nearly all activities, according to Ruiz.

Final screening of finalists was held on September 22, involving a short presentation from potential awardees and a panel interview. Ilocos Norte was represented by INTO, headed by Raquel, Senior Provincial Board Member Matthew Marcos Manotoc, and local stakeholders from travel agencies, the academe, program beneficiaries like tour guides, and the youth sector coming from the Ilocos Norte Youth Development Office (INYDO).

During the awards program, representatives coming from the City of Batac, Dingras, Vintar, Sarrat, and Pinili were present, pointing to growing participation from local tourism officers of Ilocos Norte.

INTO urges city, municipal tourism offices to participate in Pearl Awards.

“We’ve encouraged them already to try to submit proposals and bids for other awards next year,” Ruiz said, saying that INTO already sees hosting sports and athletic events, rewarding partici-pants with breathtaking views and fresh air.

He added that the award is a “very good sign that we’re actually doing something right in the provincial government in terms of tourism, and it would be good to see that even the efforts of our LGUs acknowledged as well.

“This is the largest and only nationwide tourism award as of the moment,” he pointed out, thus “these are validations that our work in terms of tourism, related industries, and hospitality is recognized by the experts of tourism in the country.”

Ilocos Norte’s tourism industry has experienced exponential growth since the start of term of Governor Marcos in 2010. From a total of 259,148 visitors in 2012, the number of tourists that visited the province in 2016 ballooned to 2,031,884.#