HIGATANGAN FEELS. The municipal government of Naval in Biliran is gearing up for the annual Higatangan Island Summer Festival slated this weekend. The festival aims to draw more tourists to the island, one of the tourist attractions of the town. (LGU NAVAL)

TACLOBAN CITY – Higatangan Island in Naval, Biliran is gearing up for its annual summer festival this weekend, organized by the municipal government to bolster tourism activities on the island.

The Higatangan Island Summer Festival (HisFest), which commenced in 2017, stands as the premier summer event in Biliran province.

It is the brainchild of then Naval Mayor and current Governor Gerard Roger Espina, aimed at enhancing tourism activities both in the municipality and the province.

As part of Naval town’s preparations, Mayor Gretchen Espina highlighted the training provided to residents from two villages on the island who expressed interest in opening their doors and rooms to accommodate guests for homestay.

Last month, 15 household owners from Higatangan Island underwent a seven-day homestay training conducted by the Department of Tourism, alongside 11 homeowners from the island town of Maripipi.

Given the absence of accommodation facilities such as hotels and resorts, homestay plays a pivotal role in the country’s tourism industry, offering tourists an authentic experience of the locals’ culture, traditions, and way of life.

“We conducted homestay training in Higatangan to address the lack of accommodation facilities on the island,” Mayor Espina said.

While the island boasts several accommodation options, the current number of rooms remains insufficient to accommodate the influx of tourists expected during the summer festival.

For HisFest 2024, the LGU anticipates around 5,000 tourists and visitors from Biliran Island and neighboring provinces to partake in the various activities lined up for the two-day festival.

“Our primary goal is to persuade people to visit Higatangan even outside the summer festival, such as on weekdays or during regular weekends,” Mayor Espina emphasized.

Higatangan, an island under the jurisdiction of Naval town, comprises two villages – Mabini and Libertad, with a population of approximately 2,000 residents.

The island is renowned for its shifting sandbar, the only one in Biliran Island, the “Capilla del Mar,” an underwater chapel adorned with a 12-foot cross and eight benches representing the eight municipalities of the province, as well as a cliff diving spot and areas suitable for scuba diving.

Other activities available to tourists and visitors on the island include manta tow, cycling around the circumferential road, a trek to the lighthouse situated at the highest point of Higatangan, and watching the sunrise and sunset.

For this year’s HisFest, the LGU encourages guests and tourists to visit the LGU Naval Facebook account and download the online registration link, which provides event details and reminders.

Mayor Espina emphasized that registration assists in monitoring the number of tourists on the island during the two-day event and thereafter.

During a press conference on Wednesday(April 3) at the island, Governor Espina expressed gratitude to the local government for perpetuating the event and voiced hope for further improvements to attract more tourists to their town.

“This program is significant. Originally conceptualized as a one to two-day per year event, we aim to transform it into a daily basis attraction. We need to make this sustainable by empowering the locals, allowing them to host their own events, with the LGU’s support during the summer,” Gov. Espina stated.

The opening of HisFest 2024 is scheduled by the LGU this Friday, April 5, with the main events set from 6 to 7.