Cagayan de Oro is among the Philippines top 5 most searched travel destinations for 2024, according to the travel booking online platform Agoda.
“While the Philippines’ well-loved destinations continue to attract their fair share of travelers, we have seen spikes in searches in lesser known tourist destinations as people expand their horizons and more people are exploring these locales,” said Enric Casals, Associate Vice President at Agoda.
Bohol topped the list, followed by Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte, Davao City, Iloilo City and Cagayan de Oro City at fifth place.
These emerging travel spots are “fast growing in popularity,” Agoda said, based on a “significant growth in interest” from users in the Philippines and abroad. The data shows a keen interest in destinations that have multiple attractions and activities for travelers to experience.
“The Philippines New Horizons list opens travelers up to new experiences, as well as to new opportunities to travel sustainably—with new destinations to explore while at the same time alleviating some pressure on the most popular destinations. Agoda is here to support them with some of the best deals on flights, accommodation, and activities so they can explore the best of what these destinations have to offer,” added Casals.
As the Philippines gateway to Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro is strategically located with air, sea and land thoroughfares which link it to a plethora of attractions not only in Northern Mindanao, but to all of Mindanao’s other regions as well which validates this observation.
Significantly, it draws almost exclusively domestic tourists from its adjacent provinces as figures from the Department of Tourism Region X (DOT-X) for the past few decades show, with its share of foreign tourists hovering around one percent.
“It’s mostly local tourists, mainly from nearby cities and provinces, who like, comment and share on my posts about local attractions,” said Eldie Aban of Travel Ta Bai blog, a member of the city’s premier social media group CDO Bloggers. “Most of the reactions are also in Bisaya.”
DOT-X statistics show that although tourist arrivals for 2019 in Northern Mindanao (Region X) declined by 9.65 percent from 3.1 to 2.8 million, these declines were mostly incurred outside Cagayan de Oro, notably Misamis Occidental (-79.60 percent), Oroquieta City (-80.60 percent), and Malaybalay City (-78.50 percent).
Significantly, Cagayan de Oro tourist arrivals for 2019 crossed the million threshold to 1,003,324 (+15.10%) from 871,698 in 2018, and accounted for the lion’s share of tourist arrivals in Region X (35.87%). Cagayan de Oro and the adjacent province of Misamis Oriental, Ozamiz City, and Camiguin actually recorded increases in tourist arrivals for the year.
“We have multi-day visitors mainly from Luzon, very seldom from the Visayas,” said Nilo Allado Lazarito, president of the Giya Amihanang Mindanao Association (Northmin Tourguides Association). “But domestic tourists still make up the bulk, mostly day trippers from around the region, balikbayans, and Filipinas married to foreigners.”
Like everywhere else in the world, tourist arrivals in Region X plummeted to only 597,577 in 2021, but staged a spectacular 175.23% comeback to 1,644,708 in 2022, though still short of the pre-pandemic level of 2.8 million in 2019. Cagayan de Oro’s adjacent provinces of Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon likewise experienced spectacular rebounds from 2021 of 52.22% and 144.70%, respectively.
“Obviously, Bukidnon’s high numbers are due to revenge tourism after the pandemic. The parks and resorts in Dahilayan, Manolo Fortich and surrounding attractions in Impasugong, Malaybalay and the Bukidnon Davao areas experienced a deluge of adventure seekers and sightseers, visiting the latest social media worthy destinations,” observed Engr. Elpidio M. Paras whose family owns and operates the pioneer Dahilayan Adventure Park in Bgy. Dahilayan, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon. “Most of the tourists were local from as far north as Baguio and south from the BARMM areas. Very active ang mga bloggers in posting the latest resorts and tourism destinations.”
Karen Chayne Sanchez, president of the CDO Bloggers, notes that the viewers who comment on the local attractions featured in her CDO Lifestyle blog are mostly interested in Cagayan de Oro’s cafes and restaurants, with many expressing their satisfaction from the nice place, ambience and food.
Food tourism via KUMBIRA
This focus on food tourism can be traced to KUMBIRA, a culinary show and live inter-school competition organized by the Cagayan de Oro Hotel and Restaurant Association (COHARA) which celebrated its 27th year in 2023.
A two-part event starting with Hala Kumbira! on August 19 which featured the 1st Inter-Barangay Culinary Competition, and the main festival and competitions on October 11–13 which featured the 1st Mindanao Coffee Festival, it has spawned several generations of student and professional participants who have looked to Cagayan de Oro in the past 3 decades for their culinary inspirations and gourmand inclinations. Its 1st Coffee Festival celebrated the explosion of coffee shops in the city which at the last count already stood at 250 and counting.
The city also boasts a plethora of seventeen food parks (and counting), upscale restaurants, and niche bistros which give their patrons the choice of a mind-boggling array of cuisines and menus from around the Philippines and all over the world.
Besides Kumbira, the city has also made its mark in the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibits (MICE) market niche, and is now attracting events from as far as Malaysia with the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale scheduled this February 2-18, 2024 at the SM CDO Downtown Event Hall, and the 75th Diamond Edition of the PAL Interclub, the country’s largest golf competition, to be hosted by Pueblo de Oro and Del Monte in Cagayan de Oro and nearby Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon, respectively, on February 19-March 4, 2024
The City of Cagayan de Oro was also active in the History and Heritage scene, hosting the National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ (NHCP) 2023 National Conference on Local History and Heritage (NCLHH) in 8-9 August 2023 at the Capitol University Mini-Theater, Cagayan de Oro City, and the Local Historical Committees Network (LHCN) General Assembly at New Dawn Plus Hotel on 10 August 2023.
Local historian delegates from all over the country were treated to tours of the city’s four museums, the city’s 3 Philippine-American War Battle Sites, a World War II trail in nearby Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon, and the MacArthur Memorial Markers in Bgy. Macabalan and Manolo Fortich.
A highlight of the closing plenary of the two day NCLHH was the launching of Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus B. Rodriguez’s new book, Cagayan de Oro-Misamis Oriental-Camiguin History Trail, which lists 37 historical sites in the three locations, at the Ayala Centrio Mall.
Very Important Pinoy (VIP) Tour 2024
And perhaps to underscore its rising popularity as an emerging travel spot, the Very Important Pinoy (VIP) Tour (formerly known as the Ambassador’s Tour) has finally included Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon in its itinerary for 21 to 30 July 2024. Over 300 Filipino-Americans from the various Philippine consulates and communities in the US will join the annual tour which will also visit Metro Manila and Bacolod.
“I encourage you to view the VIP Tour as a homecoming—a chance to learn or rediscover the Philippines,” said Consul General Senen T. Mangalile during the Event Launch held on 23 January 2024 at the Kalayaan Hall, Philippine Center in New York in cooperation with the Philippine Consulate General in New York, and the Philippine Department of Tourism’s New York Office. “This year’s VIP Tour is particularly noteworthy, as it will be the first time the itinerary has been expanded to include destinations in Mindanao and opportunities to interact with the local community.”
“Cagayan de Oro is an important air and sea hub and a top destination by land from those in Mindanao,” noted veteran tourism consultant Charles Lim. “It appeals more to the young, adventure market. Stakeholders must turn these searches and interests into actual bookings. More infrastructures and upgrade of tourist attractions is the essence of remaining competitive. Be bold; be innovative. More attractive inbound packages are needed.”