Consulting and organizing communities, the recipe of PROCESS-Bohol
Initiative : Abatan RiverLife Tour, PROCESS-Bohol
Let’s go back to Bohol. Following the interview with Ms Peluchi Kapirig, Product-development Officer of the Bohol Tourism Office, I rode again my motorbike and drove through the small rural barangays of Tagbilaran to meet Emilia Roslinda, Executive Director of PROCESS-Bohol which coordinates the Abatan RiverLife Tour.
PROCESS-Bohol stands for Participatory Research, Organization of Communities and Education towards Struggle for Self-reliance. This NGO has been working for more than 25 years in the field of community empowerment. How? It identifies the people in need, especially fishermen, farmers and women, organizes them into People Organizations (POs), capacitates these individuals and POs, and creates links between these POs and the governmental institutions and other NGOs.
This NGO has significant competences related to community development and succeeded to implement a great community-based tourism ecotourism project called Abatan RiverLife Tour in 2010. Funded by the DOT, TIEZA (Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Authority) and presently by the United Nations Development Program (around $50,000), this ecotourism tour has some unique characteristics.
As a starting point, there is an NGO specialized in community empowerment which offers more chance of success for a community-based tourism project. Then, recognizing the potential of the Abatan River, its mangroves and its access to the ocean, PROCESS-Bohol decides to create a tour along the river involving 5 different municipalities. It is crucial to identify and evaluate the real potentials, the resources that can be leveraged to create a touristic product. Even if a project is full of virtue, fair and ecological, if it doesn’t provide a real value, a unique experience to visitors, it will most probably fail.
A second point to highlight is the participatory research by PROCESS-Bohol. Indeed, in all its projects, the staff will go on the field to meet the local people and train some of them to evaluate and understand the needs and expectations, to evaluate the environmental, economic and cultural potentials and issues before providing different solutions. Thanks to these questionnaires, debates and interviews facilitated by the members of the community, understanding, cohesion, and consensus can be obtained more effectively, truthfully.
After the evaluation has been conducted and the solutions have been decided, several organizations were created within the different municipalities located along the river. It is the first time we find a community-based tourism project involving different municipalities which seems to work well. On Olango Island (Cebu), conflicts between the different governmental institutions and the lack of motivation of the different communities have led to a kind of implosion of the initiative (Find more here). In the case of the Abatan RiverLife Tour, probably thanks to the implementation process and the expertise of PROCESS-Bohol, strong links have been created among 5 municipalities involving 5 POs or associations of individuals working on the tour. Moreover, in order to ensure the cohesion of the stakeholders, a committee has been created, the Abatan River Development Management Council, including environmental and social NGOs, the POs and the governmental units. The council discusses about the issues raised by the different actors and several environmental and social rules are created which are described in the Abatan River code.
Finally, within each village, different activities are offered according to the expectations of the tourists and the resources of the communities: musical performances and dances to interpret the local life and history related to fishing and agriculture, food demonstration, hiking, zipline, boat cruising and kayaking. These activities are managed by cultural collectives composed of people of all ages in order to give a chance to everyone from the communities to get additional revenues and share their knowledge and culture. The Abatan RiverLife Tour thus provides a “path to Boholanos History” along the river.
Today, around 2,000 people are visiting the Abatan river per month. But it includes the 30 minutes Fiirefly tour which mostly contributes to the volume of visitors’ arrivals. This is most probably due to the high price of the tour, even if the visitors can create their own package according to their budget and available time. Ms Roslinda also explained that there is a lack of promotion which would create more awareness about the unique potential of this experience among the tour operators, the governmental institutions of tourism and the visitors.
In the future, Ms Roslinda expects to allocate more resources on marketing. However, other issues are existing: speaking about community-based ecotourism means community self-reliance but local people still need some capacity development. Moreover, the different barangays need to provide more support to the different stakeholders involved in this project.
More information on their website : http://www.riverlife.ph/