I have been fortunate to visit many countries of the world for educational and scientific purposes. In most of these trips abroad, my hosts provided opportunities to see more of their countries by bringing us to tourism areas.
For my part, sight-seeing in a foreign land is so relaxing that I often felt refreshed after going through serious scientific discussions during formal meetings.
To me, learning to appreciate other people and their countries is part of our international education. The visits to their tourist sites are more than sufficient to compensate for the often laborious preparations needed for attendance at scientific and educational meetings held abroad.
Almost always, our foreign hosts would take us to their famous cultural sites that show significant aspects of their history and culture, and their tourist sites that depict the uniqueness of their environments.
Practically all of our guides to these sites have been very good at explaining the importance of these sites. From our observations, it was quite clear that these countries have exercised great care in preserving the uniqueness of their cultural and tourism sites. And my impression has been that they have provided sufficient budgets to maintain these sites.
I find that the foregoing observations from foreign countries are hardly true in the Philippines. Take for example the recent controversy about the new logo made by the Department of Tourism (DOT).
The controversy was overblown by the press. The press should have focused more on the essentials of keeping the country beautiful so that foreign tourists would be attracted to the Philippines, rather than focus on the supposed error of DOT officials. It should have considered issues such as whether our natural tourism sites are kept in good condition or in good health.
So I am asking the question, what matters most in tourism?
My own experience shows that it is the tourists themselves who determine whether they are going to pay good money for certain tourism sites or not. Many tourists come to the Philippines to enjoy landscapes and seascapes not common to them in their countries.
In Negros Oriental, for example, marine ecosystems and tropical rainforests are tourist attractions for their natural beauty. In fact, it was the tourists who decided that Apo Island and the coral reefs of Dauin town should be tourist destinations, not the local people, and not even the tourism officials of Negros Oriental. The people, of course, are the beneficiaries of tourism.
But the reason why these areas have attracted tourists is because the marine ecosystems have been kept attractive to tourism through protection.
What I am saying is that a potential tourism site should first be protected as a natural site before it becomes attractive to tourists.
Many sites in Negros Oriental are potential tourism sites but unless they are protected and maintained in good condition, they will not develop into popular tourism destinations. This is a simple statement but many local government officials do not really understand it.
I give Dumaguete City as an example. The City government has not realized until now that many people come to Dumaguete to snorkel or dive in coral reefs that have good live (not dead) coral cover and plenty of fish, and the only way to maintain the beauty of these reefs and the adjoining beaches is to protect and manage them. If this is not done, no divers will come and pay good money as user fees.
Another example I would like to mention is Lake Balinsasayao (by the way, this is the spelling used in earlier publications on this lake). Our effort should be focused on keeping the original forest around the lake intact, and advertise the area as the only mountain near Dumaguete with original tropical rainforest in Negros Oriental.
Many of the new generations of Filipinos have no idea of what a rainforest is all about. This is our chance to educate them on the values of this natural heritage. So let us use our resources to protect this last remnant of rainforest that is within easy reach of people, including tourists.