DOT pushes bid to make PH the ‘freediving capital of Asia’
A top tourism official called for sustained involvement from Cebu’s private sector in the government’s bid to make the Philippines “the freediving capital of Asia.”
Benito “Bong” Bengzon, Department of Tourism (DOT) undersecretary for tourism development, said Cebu can maximize its role in this initiative if the private sector remains active and aggressive.
“One thing going for Cebu is that you have managed to establish a name for yourself. Anytime somebody mentions Cebu, there is very high recall and a positive image. That is something you can take advantage of,” he said during a press conference for the Philippine Expedition of multiple world record holder and two-time freediving world champion Guillaume Néry at Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa on Wednesday.
The expedition, which runs from July 12 to August 15, aims to support the DOT’s bid to make the Philippines the freediving capital of Asia.
A water sport that has quickly risen in the ranks of popularity, freediving relies on the divers’ ability to hold their breath until resurfacing, as opposed to scuba diving which requires the use of a tank of air or other external breathing devices.
Free divers take one deep breath, plunge into the water, dive as deep as they can with no tanks or air, and come back up again.
The pure mental strength it needs to overcome fear and gain a semblance of freedom in a chaotic world is what makes freediving so enticing to many.
It is also considered an international competitive sport with the emergence of competitions around the world that bring communities of divers together to share their knowledge and experiences.
Association Internationale pour le Dévelopement de l’Apnée (AIDA) or the International Association for the Development of Freediving is the leading provider of freediving education internationally.
Compared to other islands in the Philippines, Bengzon said Cebu has a fairly larger freediving community, giving it a critical mass advantage.
Furthermore, he cited international air access through the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA), which positions itself as a world-class gateway, as another factor that sets the province apart from other freediving destinations in the country.
The tourism official said divers have many sites to choose from in Cebu, including Mactan Island, Moalboal in southern Cebu and Bantayan Island in the north.
Even with these advantages at Cebu’s disposal, Bengzon said the private sector should make sure to join sales missions and travel exhibitions to promote the province as a freediving site.
Bengzon said that while DOT has been promoting the Philippines as a diving destination, they felt that it was necessary to also offer more specific segments such as freediving and even underwater photography and diving for beginners.
“We wanted to expand our menu of tourism destinations,” he said.
Freediving as a product is still in its infancy for the DOT but has a lot of potential, said Bengzon, adding that this initiative was meant to keep the Philippines competitive and ensure the tourism industry remains sustainable and inclusive.
Néry held a freediving workshop on Mactan from July 15 to 17, with the next one on August 4 to 6 in Moalboal.
From July 22 to August 3, he will explore Bohol and Coron and El Nido in Palawan, destinations that are fast becoming popular for freedivers for its deep waters right off the shores and clear waters all year round.
His last destination in the country will take him to Davao where an expansive community of Badjaos can be found.
He will be filming a short video documentary on the Badjaos of Davao, focusing on their way of life, their connection with water, as well as their love and skill for freediving.
Néry said he sees a lot of potential for the Philippines to become the freediving capital of Asia, especially because it is right in the middle of Southeast Asia.
“The Philippines is full of treasures and marine life, which are attractive to freedivers,” he said, adding that the country has thousands of islands still waiting to be discovered.
A French national, Néry also teaches and conducts trainings on deep diving at the Centre International de Plongee en Apnee (CIPA) or International Deep Diving Center, the main freediving club in France where he is the president.
In 2002, Néry became the youngest freedive record holder by diving to a depth of 87 meters using the force of his fins alone. After that, he beat the world record thrice, became the world team champion in 2008, the individual world champion in Greece in 2011, and set the New France record at 125 meters in 2013.
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