The Charms of Davao City


By Jeffrey O. Valisno

THE CITY of Davao, located at the southeastern edge of the Philippines, is an easy place to fall in love with. Visitors are easily smitten by its offbeat charm and understated beauty.

Not as big a tourist draw as Cebu — or even Baguio — but in some ways a match for either, this city is moving steadily upwards on the wish lists of discerning travelers.

Upon the invitation of the Marco Polo Davao Hotel, a group of Manila-based journalists visited Davao City last month to check out what the city has to offer.

Travelers who arrive at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport are greeted by the city’s exhilarating vibe. With its Malay-inspired architecture, the airport is being readied for expansion, including plans to construct more parking and a taxiway for the convenience of passengers.

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The road out of the airport and into the heart of the city seems busier, cleaner, and more cheerful than before. Construction and refurbishments are going on everywhere — from more shopping malls, to condominiums, hotels, and office buildings.

“Davao’s time has come. It is our time to shine,” Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte said in a chance interview at the hotel lobby after the group arrived.

“We are positioning Davao as an alternative tourist attraction and a prime convention destination,” he said.

The largest city in the Philippines in terms of land area, Davao serves as the main trade, commerce, and industry hub of Mindanao, and the regional center for Davao Region (Region 11).

Davao is the home to the Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the country, and the Philippine eagle, the country’s national bird.

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In the annual survey made by Asiaweek magazine on the 40 Best Cities in Asia, Davao City landed in the Top 20 for four consecutive years between 1996 and 1999.

Still, Davao has lagged behind other provinces as a tourist destination.

Based on available figures from the Department of Tourism (DoT), Cebu is the country’s top tourist destination with 1.615 million arrivals as of 2009. Davao was ranked fifth with 669,864, behind Cebu, Camarines Sur (with 1.566 million), Metro Manila (1.442 million), and Baguio (770,187).

The Davao City Tourism Office said the number of tourists in the city reached 1.075 million last year, 45% more than 2011. It was the first time that Davao City breached the one million mark.

Still, the City Tourism Office admitted that Davao City draws fewer tourists than Cebu, Metro Manila, Boracay, Baguio, and Camarines Sur.

The Regional office of the Tourism department expects a 10% hike in tourist arrivals in Davao this year, attributed to the additional flights to the city by local airlines, as well as the opening of more shopping malls and a new SMX Convention Center in Lanang (located at the north of the city) that can accommodate as many as 5,000 people.

At the same time, DoT-Region 11 said in a statement that it expects more tourists to visit the city as the local government aggressively promotes Davao as the country’s premiere convention destination.

Anthony Wai Kwok Tan, Marco Polo Davao general manager, said Davao City is uniquely positioned to be a good destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE).

“As a business hub for Mindanao, Davao has what it takes to host major MICE events, starting with the airport, the high level of safety, the low crime rate, and the warm hospitality of the residents here,” Mr. Tan told reporters.

He said as many as 95% of Marco Polo’s guests are Filipinos, most attending business conferences.

“But since I arrived here last March, we are noticing a growth of foreign tourists, mostly Koreans, Chinese, and Singaporeans,” he said.

Many believe that the influx of tourists is due to the peace and security that Davao City offers its guests. Davao residents are proud that the city has an extremely low crime rate at 0.8 incidents per 10,000 reported cases — thanks to the watchful eye of Mr. Duterte, who was tagged in a 2002 Time Magazine article as “The Punisher.”

After winning another three-year term as mayor last May, Mr. Duterte has instituted more sweeping reforms to ensure peace and stability in the city.

He has implemented a stricter citywide smoking ban in all public places, and a ban on the consumption of alcohol in public after midnight (the ban used to start at 2 a.m.). A curfew on minors is also enforced.

Despite being the largest city in the country, Davao feels more like a village, and the pace of life, a few notches below that of Metro Manila, has a calming effect.

That said, there are certain things that are worth stirring oneself to see and do in the city.

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