Guimaras grabs tourism alternative
NUEVA VALENCIA, Guimaras – Frankie Aracan leads a pack of journalists through the rocky, winding trail on mountain bikes. He regularly checks if anyone is left behind or is having difficulty catching up.
A few hours later, Aracan gives pointers as they rappel down a 95-foot cliff overlooking the pristine beaches of Guimaras Island.
Aracan is not an expert mountain biker or rappeller although he has undergone training as a guide for adventure sports. On most days, he is on a tricycle ferrying passengers from the town proper of Nueva Valencia to the villages.
But like other residents of Sitio Guisi in Barangay Dolores, he is getting much needed extra income from a heritage tourist site recently launched by the Department of Tourism. He earns P250 to P350 for a day’s work as a tour guide of the community-based Guisi Discovery Quest – bigger than the average P150 he gets from his regular job.
Making ends meet
“Tourists help us make ends meet and more of us will be benefited if there are more guests,” he said.
Last year, the DOT, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) designed a tourism package that would help provide islanders an alternative source of income while recovering from the disaster that swept Guimaras in August 2006. Nueva Valencia was the hardest hit among five towns by the oil spill that ruined the livelihood of coastal residents and triggered a slump in tourism.
Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano, who led the launching of the tour package last month, said the vulnerability of Guimaras was seen during the oil spill because it depended highly on fishing. “Tourism is a natural alternative for Guimaras because of its natural resources,” he said.
The Guisi Discovery Quest was an expansion of the community-based heritage tourism project initiated by the CUI for the community in 2003. The project, managed by the Barangay Dolores Tourism Council (BDTC), is centered on the rich historical heritage of Sitio Guisi.
According to folklore, the sub-village derived its name (Hiligaynon for “torn apart”) from the sails of vintas used by Bornean datus, which were ripped by strong winds as they passed the coast in the 13th century.
Guisi is rich in cultural traditions. Residents have preserved the music, dances and rituals brought to their shores by the first settlers in the 1860s.
It also hosts the ruins of an 18th-century lighthouse built on top of a hill by the Spanish colonial government in 1896. Known as Faro de Punta Luzaran, the lighthouse had served as a navigational aid to fishermen and sailors in the Panay Gulf.
Durano said the DOT would finance the restoration of the old lighthouse as a viewing den, although a new lighthouse has been built beside it.
From the facility, tourists can trek down to the Basyaw Cove for boating or snorkeling. They can also go on a mangrove tour, mountain biking to Tagsing Cave or rappelling.
The eight-hour tour, costing P999 per person, includes use of mountain bikes, snorkeling and rappelling equipment, guide services and boating, as well as lunch and two snacks of native food prepared by the villagers.
All guides, kitchen staff and maintenance crew are local residents who attended seminars for tourism front-liners, workshops for food preparation and handling, and courses on rappelling, mountain biking and snorkeling.
The DOT and UNDP donated around P995,600 for the training sessions and equipment for mountain biking, rappelling and snorkeling.
The tour package has started bringing more income to the villagers, mostly fishermen and charcoal makers earning only P70 per day. They also earn from selling and preparing food for guests, according to Henrietta Dulla, president of the BDTC.
Eco-tourism and community-based tourist destinations show a lot of promise, Durano said. These sites, like the Guisi Discovery Quest and whale shark watching in Donsol, are in demand by big-spending tourists from developed countries, he said.
“Travelers coming from developed countries are more and more conscious of their environmental footprints. It makes them feel good that by being travelers, they’re also contributing to ecological conservation and community preservation and development,” Durano said.
The greater consciousness among travelers on the environment and the preservation of community life, he said, “is where global tourism is heading.”
Kyo Naka, UNDP deputy resident representative, said he hoped the experience of Guisi villagers would become a model for other communities on how they can turn around the impact of disasters like the oil spill.
While the effects of the disaster lingers, residents hope that things will soon turn around. Tourist arrivals in Guimaras still declined last year at 156,423, lower than 181,915 in 2005 and 172,985 in 2006, according to data from the provincial tourism office. The trend continued in the first two months of this year.
But in March, the number jumped to 30,038, more than double the 13,999 reported in 2006 and 13,568 in 2007.
This is a sign that “opportunity is the other side of the same coin of crisis,” Durano said.
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