A “big player” in the tourism transport industry that is supposedly set to enter into the province’s booming tourism market is met with strong opposition from local transport operators.
Various tourist transport groups here have organized themselves to express their objection to the entry of an Iloilo-based company with operations in major tourist destinations of Boracay, Palawan and Cebu.
The arrival of Southwest will directly compete with the operations of local transport services with almost 1,000 franchised vehicle units, involving vans, sedans, coasters and buses.
Southwest, reportedly lured into the province by the Henann Group to be the resort’s transportation service provider, is ultimately eyeing to “dominate transport operations” in Panglao, notably with the opening of the New Bohol Airport in the coming months.
Efforts to block the entry of Southwest led to the organization of an association called Bohol Alliance of Tourist Transport Operators (BATTO), who has sought the help of Gov. Edgar Chatto and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) to endorse their petition to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
“Especially with the opening of the New Bohol Airport, we are confronted with the news that transport giants from outside the province are coming into the picture. This development is extremely alarming to us as it threatens not only the viability of the businesses of local operators but also the livelihood of hundreds of our drivers and support service workers,” BATTO said in its position paper which they will be submitting to the LTFRB.
BATTO is initially composed of 11 tourist transportation associations and cooperatives who are asking the LTFRB to prevent and disallow Southwest from operating in Bohol.
During an audience with Gov. Chatto and Board Member Abelion Damalerio yesterday, the group led by Dr. Doloreich Dumaluan expressed “deep concern” for the welfare of the Boholano tourist transport operators which consists mostly of small operators.
“The Bohol tourist transport industry has been a key contributor to the development and growth of Bohol tourism which is now recognized as a major economic driver in our province,” the group’s letter said.
According to the group, the expansion of Southwest into Bohol would significantly affect their smaller businesses.
Based on information gathered by their member associations, Southwest has already started to prepare required documents for its operations in the province.
BATTO noted that Bohol has enough vehicles to cater to visitor and many of its members are upgrading their vehicles to keep up with the demand.
According to Dumaluan, there are around 700 tourist transportation units that are duly franchised by LTFRB and are actively operating in the province. However, there are also units which are forced to operate as “colorum” or unregistered vehicles due to the LTFRB’s new policy of requiring each franchise applicant to have a minimum of 10 vehicles to be granted a franchise.
BATTO has also called on the provincial government to implement a “Bohol first” policy in the industry.
According to BATTO, additional transportation units for tourists are not yet needed in the province, particularly as local operators have complied with required standards set by the LTFRB and DOTr.
“Together with the rest of the tourism industry players, we patiently struggled through the many challenges that have beset the whole industry in Bohol over the years. With firm belief in the inclusive nature and the now improving prospects of the industry, many of us have upgraded or are in the process of upgrading our units or fleets, investing our lifetime savings and even borrowing from banks for this purpose,” the group said.
BATTO explained that aside from the existence of sufficient inventory of vehicles with franchise in the province that already meets the demands of the market, the local tour operators are also prepared to invest in more vehicles should the demand increase in the future.
The local tourist transport group expressed that it should have priority over new players from outside Bohol since as the “homegrown” transport operators, they have “helped nurture Bohol tourism through its developmental years and difficult times, and have cooperated in the concerted efforts of the province to become the country’s prime eco-cultural tourist destination.
During the group’s meeting with Gov. Chatto and BM Damalerio yesterday, they were given the assurance that the governor will help them articulate their position to the national agencies concerned.