Q&A with RD Helen J. Catalbas

She was appointed as the regional director of the Dept. of Tourism-VI by President Rodrigo R. Duterte. It may appear quite recent but this is not to say that Atty. Helen J. Catalbas is a newbie to regional tourism. In 2012, she assumed as the Officer-in-Charge of DOT-VI after serving the agency for 28 years.

As the regional director, she introduced the promotional campaign Experience Western Visayas First and it became instrumental in the development of numerous offshoot projects that are now serving as major events which attracted a host of people to Western Visayas from musicians, artists, cultural workers, filmmakers, culinary experts, food bloggers, farmers, and travelers who are all coming from different places in the archipelago and even abroad. 

Annual tourist arrivals steadily grew in the last five years from 3.9 million in 2014, 4.6 million in 2015, 5.1 million in 2016, and 5.8 million in 2017. It slightly decreased in 2018 at 4.9 million because of the temporary closure of Boracay Island.

The numbers means one thing – economic activity, and 2017 was recorded with the highest tourist receipts in the last five years at P128,456 million.

As a well-performing agency, the engagements of DOT-VI seemed unstoppable.  Hence, it was strange for us to inquire from RD Helen Catalbas if she ever gets a break from all the activities that she initiated.

We have learned, however, that she was on her way for a vacation and so we clutched this 10 minute Q&A with her.

Q: DoT-VI is perhaps one of the most stable regional agency. What was your leadership approach since your appointment as the regional director?

A: Tourism permeates at every aspect of Western Visayas life. Therefore, my leadership approach is 3 pronged: accountability, inclusivity and pro-activity. This approach has been applied both on the internal and external aspect of our operations. Internal involves our staff while external entails our engagements with the entire tourism sector of Region VI.

But allow me to elaborate by breaking down every aspect of the approach that I have applied.

Accountability refers on the responsibility or answerability for one’s actions and omissions. I made sure that the official members of DOT-VI family, including our stakeholders for that matter, have fully understood the principles of accountability and that they have internalized it for it requires that they live by it on a daily basis.

Inclusivity, on the other hand, signifies that all of the stakeholders of the Western Visayas tourism industry – regional office, LGUs, and the private sector – are able to assert their respective mandate and exercise their functions in making regional tourism sustainable and become a potent force in nation-building.

Inclusivity is important for DOT-VI because of its mandated deliverables. I highlighted inclusivity for it pertains on the benefits that will be derived by all of the sectors involved in Western Visayas from the investors going down to the grassroots and the marginalized in society.

Lastly, I believe that proactivity is an important mindset. It denotes the significance of being alert in doing something before any negative episode happens. This is to mitigate, if not to reverse, the impact of a circumstance.

Q: You have introduced quite a number of programs under the flagship campaign “Western Visayas First”. Among those that you have implemented, what has demonstrated with a strong potential for institutionalization or for scaling-up?

A: Among the various programs, projects and activities the agency initiated, either agency-led implementation or in collaboration with other sectors, at least five have illustrated strong potential for institutionalization or scaling-up. These are Boracay Rehabilitation, Konsiyerto Para sa Turismo, CineKasimanwa Western Visayas Film Grants, Farm Tourism and Culinary Tourism Events.

Q: You have displayed a strong connection with various stakeholders. How did the partnerships and the collaborations that you created complemented in the attainment of the agency goals for the region?

A: Strong partnership with LGUs and the private sector in Western Visayas has made possible the attainment of agency goals in the region because it provided a platform for sharing of expertise and resources. Strong partnerships contributed a lot for the success of regional tourism.

Q: You also have been conversant about your mandatory retirement from government service. How do you intend to channel your energy, valuable experience, and wisdom on tourism moving forward?

A: I intend to work with communities in Western Visayas that needs my assistance the most. I am also looking forward to more international engagements.

Q: It is early to discuss about your legacy, however, agency workers can already identify what you have institutionalized and which made the agency stronger. What is DoT-VI without Director Catalbas?

A: Nobody is indispensable. Considering the achievements of DOT-VI, I am convinced that it will go on strong and become a more stable regional agency even without me at the helm. Thus, I worked hard to build the competence of our staff. It allowed them to become confident and dependable to carry on what we have started.

Although I have never promised that I will be able to finish everything that we planned for DOT-VI, I believe that the sooner that my colleagues will make me ‘irrelevant’, the more successful I would feel as a leader.

Q: On a lighter note, you have traveled the different regions. What have you learned from your travels?

A: I learned that regions were not created equal. 

Q: Which among destinations that you enjoy the most – the beach or mountain?

A: Anything natural attracts me.

Q: Do you still have a destination on your bucket list?

A: I want to go to Bhutan if given the chance.

Q: Undoubtedly, you are a workaholic. What are your relaxation and unwind activities?

A: Interacting with my two granddaughters gives me a different level of relaxation and fun. Malling in Western Visayas also gets me reconnected with people that I already seldom meet because of my hectic schedule.

Q: At the end of the day, you go home in Guimaras. How important is home and family to you?

A: I usually go home to Guimaras on a daily basis when I am not on work travel. Yet two years ago, I re-established my residence in Iloilo City and I only go home to Guimaras especially during good weather.

Home and family are my top priority.

*Photos were lifted from the Facebook page of the Dept. of Tourism Region VI.

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