THE COUNTRY’S top dive spots took center stage during the first Philippine International Dive Expo held last week at the Conrad Hotel Manila as the country is seriously trying to strengthen the country’s position as a global diving powerhouse, according to a tourism executive.

“With this Philippine International Dive Expo we hope to raise the level of awareness higher [and] promote emerging destinations. But more importantly, we hope that this will provide the opportunity for us to showcase sustainable development efforts [of the DoT],” Benito C. Bengzon, Jr., Department of Tourism (DoT) Undersecretary during a press conference on Sept. 20.

The dive expo, which ran from Sept. 20-22 at the Conrad, held a dive conference “with at least 30 renowned local and international speakers” and “at least 60 international buyers” from DoT-identified markets including the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.

“We’ve had similar initiatives in the not to distant past… diving has always been a priority product for the DoT,” Mr. Bengzon said before adding that this is the first time they provided a platform for business-to-business.

“We would like to use this venue to find out from experts both abroad and locally what measures we can take so we can bring diving tourism [higher],” he explained.

The Philippines is located in the Coral Triangle — the roughly triangular area of tropical marine waters which also include Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea, which contain at least 500 species of reef-building corals and thus thousands of species of marine life.

Among the top dive sites in the country include the Tubbataha Reef located in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, and Malapascua Island in Cebu.

Underwater photographer Lynn Funkhouser noted that for more than four decades, she has been coming to the Philippines several times a year to photograph its rich marine life.

Though she has a soft spot for Anilao, Batangas where she started her long-standing love affair with the Philippine marine life, she said that whenever she travels to another island, she keeps discovering something new.

Mr. Bengzon noted that “about 5% of foreign visitors to the Philippines” come to dive.

“For example, last year we had 7 million international tourists, 5% of that is about 300,000 people,” he said.

Divers are also big spenders as an average tourist spends about $1,200 during their visit but divers spend “at least double that,” thus making a case for it being a priority product of the department. — Zsarlene B. Chua