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Tourism illusions and realities

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The idea of more intensively promoting tourism invariably comes up whenever economic development strategies for the province are discussed, and it was no different at a forum recently held by the Buglas Development Foundation.

The acronym ACT was proposed, to stand for agricultural modernization, communications access and tourism development. On tourism, the same message is always put forward: if Thailand can make tourism a major pillar of their economy, or closer to home, if Bohol’s tourism has taken off, then so should it be possible in this province.

Having been very frequently in Thailand for work, and also taken in the sights, I always find the comparison less than realistic. Thailand simply has more to offer by way of cultural and architectural sights, its temples and palaces, exquisite handicrafts and products, the gustatory thrills, along with the natural attractions of beaches, islands or mountain cities and sights, and not to forget botanical or royal gardens. A comparison with Bohol makes more sense although it has better beaches in Panglao Island, the attraction of the curious natural formation of the “chocolate hills”, and some reasonably organized tourism activities. The advantages that this province has in common with Bohol have mostly to do with dive sites and a number of good resorts.

So if, as in the ACT formula, tourism is to be a major economic motor, what sort of tourism should this province be aiming for, and who puts together a coherent plan, presumably the Provincial Tourism Council? Over the years, the sites and possibilities for tourism activities have remained the same few options. As someone who frequently has non-diver visitors from outside the province, it would be nice to have something more to do with them than a habal-habal ride to Caseroro Falls if they’re up to it, lunch at a beach resort in Dauin, and dinner along the boulevard.

Going to Balinsasayaw or Balanan lakes isn’t just about being there, hiking would be a good activity if trails were well planned which they weren’t the last times I was there. And by the way, Tourism Council, it is a shameful sight to drive along the coastal roads and to see every roadside tree plastered with advertising posters. How we dirty up nature and spoil what should be natural beauty is immediately apparent particularly to foreign visitors, even if the locals are inured to this visual pollution.

Fiesta tourism may appeal to some, but too often it’s a mess and filled with pathetic attempts at festivity and retrograde “crownings” of fiesta “kings and queens.” I certainly never want to see more street dancing in my life and neither did a visiting Canadian friend recently who had just been at the Bacolod Mascara, carrying away impressions of jostling crowds, intolerable noise and disorder.

Dumaguete City itself has little to offer the visitor by way of sights or activities. It should take a cue from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur where public gardens are attractions, Singapore’s wonderful botanical garden, and KL’s Orchid garden and Gumamela /Hibiscus garden. Just think how lovely it would be, for the local population and the visitor, to have a such a spot in the city to enjoy the beauty and peace of plants, to make up for the creeping urban blight that for some, goes by the name of development. What is it in our culture, in our political leaders, different from some of our neighbors in the region, that does not value the healthy connection to nature? A look at Quezon or Freedom parks shows how little care there is for them as parks, instead they are merely designed and used as venues for any and all kinds of activities. A flower garden in the city is possible and would be valuable, for the people of Dumaguete and as a tourism attraction.

In all this, it’s important to be aware of a caveat from American economists and long- time observers and analysts of the Philippine political economy, Dr. Robin Broad and John Cavanagh. In a recent article, they warned that the government’s reliance on four top sources of foreign exchange that depend on an unstable global economy exposes the country to risk, namely: export of electronics, remittances of OFWs, call center earnings, and tourism. They identify this last as a particularly fickle sector because many things can happen to keep foreign tourists away. Their advice: to work for the development of local production (particularly in agriculture) for local consumption. Tourism can be for local consumption too; developing tourism attractions in Dumaguete City and other sites in the province should bring in more visitors from other parts of the country.





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