MANILA, Philippines – More Filipinos are discovering Coron, a small town belonging to the Calamianes group of islands located in the northernmost part of Palawan.
The first-quarter report of the Department of Tourism (DOT) shows that domestic tourist arrivals to Coron and the capital city of Puerto Princesa, grew by a record-breaking 392 percent. The DOT attributes this to the increase in flights from Manila, Cebu, and Caticlan. Coron is an hour away from Manila by plane.
For Al and Mae Linsangan of Calamian Expeditions Travel & Tours, however, getting there and back is just one aspect of the experience. Equally important is communications, says Mae.
Coron enjoys mobile connectivity, dominantly from Smart Communications Inc., which has installed 12 3G/High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) and GSM base stations to serve the Calamianes group of islands, with five dedicated to the town proper. Hence, the signal is strong not only in Coron but in the waters and islands surrounding the municipality.
It’s a big advantage to the Linsangans, who adopt a community approach to tourism, involving local tour guides, mountain guides, resort and lodge operators, boat operators, transport operators, indigenous cultural groups and adventure seekers.
Often mobile, they are all reachable by cellphone, given Smart’s coverage.
Tourists, too, enjoy the convenience of being connected even in the remote islands. A must-do for travelers is sending wish-you-were-here messages — with MMS photos of themselves, say, swimming in the crystal-clear waters of Kayangan Lake, the cleanest lake in the Philippines. Kayangan is the only one of 15 lakes in Coron open to the public. There are many other attractions.
Coron is best known as the jump-off point to what is considered as one of the best dive sites in the world, with 12 sunken World War II Japanese shipwrecks found in its waters.
Snorkeling is best at Siete Pecados and other nearby sites, which boast of a thriving marine population and stunning coral reefs. Other options are swimming in the turquoise waters of Coron Island’s inland lakes and nearby beaches, rejuvenating at Maquinit hot springs and exploring the iconic limestone cliffs and ridges.
With so much to see and do, it’s almost a crime for tourists not to have a camera handy, especially in this photo-blog age. Smart’s HSPA service has boosted Web activity in the town, with the majority of Coron’s Internet cafés powered by Smart Bro, the wireless broadband service of Smart Broadband Inc.
With nightlife limited to a few bars and cafés, Internet connectivity is now being offered as an alternative in more resorts and lodging houses.
SeaDive Resort, which boasts of the biggest diving and accommodation facility on the waterfront, offers free Wi-Fi service via Smart Bro in its restaurant, enabling tourists to check their e-mails, post photos on their social networking sites, surf the Web, access YouTube, or do online gaming. Foreigners take the chance to chat with folks back home via video streaming.
The Linsangans themselves operate an Internet café, Calamian Planet Online, located just beside their office and art gallery. An enterprising businessman and a true resident of Coron, Al started off with a souvenir shop called Corong Galeri Lokals, which sells Calamianes’ traditional products, arts, and handicrafts made by locals, including Filipino tribal minorities from the island barangays and upland communities.
The couple has since expanded to related ventures, including Palawan Outdoors, an adventure products and equipment shop, and Al 3 Studio, which offers graphic design and conceptualization, layout, large format printing, digital photo and photography services. Al, a photographer who knows the Calamianes’ many picturesque spots, frequently goes island-hopping to take pictures for travel publications.
Like most entrepreneurs in Coron and in the nearby islands, the Linsangans publicize their services on their website (www.corongaleri.com.ph) and coordinate with clients via mobile phone.
“The communications provided by Smart is crucial to our business,” says Mae, who is rarely without her cellphone and booking sheet. Not a day goes by that she and Al don’t get phone or e-mail queries from foreign and domestic tourists who had accessed their website or had been referred by satisfied customers. When you come right down to it, all they really need to run their business — and tell more people about Coron — is their cellphone.