Bohol Tourism Office
Violaine is now in Palawan whereas I left Mindanao to land on Bohol Island. I was pretty excited to arrive on Bohol as it is considered as THE prime ecotourism destination in the Philippines. Situated in the South of the Visayas and only 2h away by fast boat from Cebu, Bohol Island offers a great diversity of landscapes: pristine beaches, an alternation of small mountains and agricultural and forested valleys in its heart, the famous “Chocolate Hills” and its biodiversity with for example, the cute Tarsier as a celebrity.
Numerous sustainable tourism initiatives can be found in here: I knew some of them but at my arrival I discovered that many more can still be explored. I found the necessity to visit the Provincial Tourism Office to know more about the success of Bohol and I had the chance to meet Gina Peluchi Kapirig, product development officer, right before riding my motorbike again to interview the executive director of PROCESS-Bohol, a NGO specialized in community development and empowerment for more than 25 years.
My plan was to make this meeting with Ms Kapirig a few days after however it was a day off so I had improvise the questions a little. First learning of that day: know your calendar and the days-off. But this meeting was very interesting and I could learn several issues related to the tourism development of Bohol.
Assisting the different stakeholders in their activities
The main role of the product development officer and more generally of the provincial tourism office is to assist the different stakeholders in the good implementation, management and development of the tourism activities on the Island. Particularly, the private sector, the NGOs, the local communities and the municipalities need technical assistance, trainings and networking. Moreover, the department of product development has a key role in identifying touristic potentials on the Island. In this purpose, the province organizes the HEAT caravan (Health, Education, Agriculture and Tourism) where a multi-department team go on the field to the different municipalities to identify and evaluate the issues and opportunities of the communities, the companies and the local governments units.
In terms of tourism stakeholders’ assistance, the principal objective is to organize trainings for entrepreneurs and local communities. To succeed, Ms Kapirig has to prepare proposals, find funding (when it is not part of the annual program and budget of the governor), and find different experts according to the needs. For instance, concerning community-based ecotourism, local communities need to be trained on customer service, interactions with tourists (especially about foreigners who have different needs and expectations) and more than ever on interaction with the natural environment in order to keep the activity sustainable (in its broad meaning). Indeed, the boat captain of a whale watching tour needs to learn how to approach these giant animals without disturbing them, how to respect them. Whereas a community organizing caving or bird watching will have totally different expertise needs.
“If you can’t measure, you can’t improve »
A famous expression in continuous development and strategy is: “If you can’t measure, you can’t improve”. Definitely, to evaluate and improve a service, being tourism or not, you need to gather data and information. These data are not only the common “how many tourists or how much did they spent?” Multidimensional data, qualitative and quantitative, must be taken into consideration related to visitors but also to local communities and fauna and flora. Thus, questionnaires must be designed in order to understand the spending and feelings of tourists and the actual development of the local communities. Indeed, even with ecotourism and community-based tourism, we have to be cautious about the redistribution of tourism revenues. This is often the same people who receive the largest part of the revenues (hotels, tour and transport operators) and it can accentuate the inequality of revenue generation even at a local level. So, concerning the data collection in the Bohol Tourism Office, Ms Kapirif explained that it is a hard task to evaluate the number of visitors and their spending as the hotels and transport companies do not want to bear a supplemental responsibility.
Avoiding the “Me too”
Finally, the last point Ms Kapirig focused on, is the tendency of the entrepreneurs and municipalities to go for the “Me too”. What is the “Me too”? Basically, to copy what the neighbours do and what is profitable… Quite basic and inevitable in business. For instance, building a zipline, whale and dolphins watching… But when it is about the tourism development of an Island, it weakens the local communities and entrepreneurs who started first and have relied on it for their development. Thus, the Provincial Tourism Office advises these entrepreneurs and municipalities to innovate, differentiate in order to avoid the burden of competition between the different actors on the island and to create local specializations and expertise in different areas. For the sake of even richer and diversified experiences for the different tastes of the visitors.