News Analysis Tourism

Touring Davao City – Hollywood-style

Branding is everything in tourism marketing and Davao City, which sits on the northwestern shoreline of the Davao Gulf in southeastern Mindanao, might just have come up with a trademark that could put this sprawling megalopolis on the international map.

Next month, the City Tourism Operations Office in Davao, a regional branch of the Department of Tourism (DOT) which handles the area’s tourism interests, will be rolling out its “Dutertour Package” – a Hollywood-stars’-homes-type deal that will take trippers on a circuit of President Elect Rodrigo Duterte’s home, his mayoral office at City Hall where he spent 20 years, Museo Dabawenyo – the city museum, which will shortly house the chair on which Duterte sat to cast his vote in the 9 May presidential election – and anywhere else that has a Duterte connection. If he’s in town, there may even get the chance to meet him.

With 145 hotels and six major resorts in and around the city, there is plenty of accommodation for an upsurge in visitor arrivals. And there’s no shortage of space: Davao City stretches across 2,240 sq km – that’s bigger than Moscow, in fact it’s the same size of Brussels, Dubai and Copenhagen combined.

Flights arrive at Francisco Bangoy International Airport (named after a 19th century clan chief whose family donated the land on which the airport sits to the city) which has a single 3,000-meter precision runway and is fitted with the latest navigational, security, and baggage-handling equipment. Currently, Davao International is capable of handling 2 million passengers and 84,600 metric tons of cargo annually.

The facilities include a new terminal which was installed as part of a US$128 million improvement which was completed in 2003. A new upgrade, to expand the passenger and cargo terminals, extend the car-parking areas, provide a new administration block and secure a 30-year, operation and maintainance contract for the facility, is in the process of receiving bids under the government’s Public Private Partnership programme. The indicative cost for the work has been set at US$0.90156 billion.

DOT Regional Director, Roberto P. Alabado III, is confident that Dutertours is a winner. We are expecting more tourist arrivals, especially since the number one promoter of the city is the incoming president,” he said, adding that interest has been spawned by the transformation of the city under Duterte’s leadership. “They want to see how peaceful it is … to see the rules and the discipline. The tour package will educate people about what our incoming president has done”.

Davao City – today marketed by the Tourism Office as “The Most Peaceful City in Southeast Asia” – has changed beyond recognition. In the mid-1980s, Asiaweek (a Time Inc. magazine that ceased publication in 2001) dubbed it ‘Murder City’ – and with good cause.

An urban sprawl of lawlessness, it was a stamping ground for thugs and highwaymen, rapists and  kidnappers, and criminals of every persuasion, as well as being an extortion-rich pasture for the Communist Party of the Philippines and the (Maoist) New People’s Army. It was the most violent city in Southeast Asia with bodies turning up in ditches on a daily basis. One district, Agadao – today, a tourist district supported by an SM Mall and a number of hotels, among them the four-star Park Inn by Radisson – was nicknamed ‘Nicaragadoa,’ in deference to the bloody Sardanista-Contra conflict that was raging in the Central American country at that time.