Olango Island, the succesive failures of community-based tourism projects

Until now, we have written about successeful community-based projects. However, it is not that easy to implement such a project in the Philippines and long-term sustainability is not ensured. Matthias’ experience is in this sense really interesting and sheds light on the major role played by motivation, the presence of leaders and the harmony in the community.

Tricycles in Olango

Matthias,a young French who has been living in the Philippines for 6 years, can tell a lot about the difficulties when setting up a project of community-based tourism. He started his adventure in Olango Island (near Cebu City) as an intern 7 years ago. He worked on an ecotourism project that started in 1998 but which was suffering from internal conflicts in the community.

The project began with a donation of Php 1 million from USAID (U.S. Agnecy for International Development) to the community. This huge amount of money created tensions in the community.  Matthias decided to come back to Olango  in the  influential and politicized family who received him during his internship. In 2008, he created Ecoconut, a local tour operator which sells package tours on Olango Island. Among others, he was associated with Edil, who works at the DEpartment of Natural Ressources (DENR) and is a member of Matthia’s hosting family.

Olango Island has everything that is needed for  tourism but it is difficult for the community to market it and this is where Ecoconut would play its role.

The entrance of Olango’s Wildlife Sanctuary

With only a small initial capital, Matthias succeded to build new partnerships with big clients such as Nouvelles Frontières, Shangri-La or Southwind, a filipino travel agency. He managed to bring back the interest of the Department Of Tourism in Olango (the DOT had stopped helping  Olango after the conflitcts in the local community with the USAID money). Partners trained local guides and gave some assets to the community for them to be able to do the tour properly.

The day tour includes a visit of Olango’s mangroves with a guide explaining the fauna and flora, a demonstration of fishing, local handicrafts with shells and coconut oil-making , a lunch prepared by the community, and the possibility of snorkeling in the nearby islands.

Olango’s mangroves

But then, old problems came back  and the lack of natural leader in the community led to small wars between groups. Moreover, the community involved in the project kept asking for more money, even though they were not  working more or taking more responsabilites. The situation worsened and some rumors circulated, saying that Ecoconut was making profit from their  work and that the community should handle the marketing by itself. The Department of Tourism, seeing that the conflicts were coming back, resigned and other partners followed.

Three weeks ago, Matthias learned from the newspapers that the DENR donated Php 300,000 for the community and was taking over the project, with new tours and new rates. Econonut was out. Edil got this grant by herseflf, being now the only one in charge of the project, with the support of the local government, some of them being from her family.

Olango’s mangroves

We wanted to meet Edil, to have our own idea on this tragic  history for Ecoconut. Very unfriendly, she received us in Olango, to tell us about a reinvented story of tourism in the island. The words Ecoconut or Matthias were not pronounced at all. The DOT and Southwind were said to be still involved in the project while it is not the case.

She seems to see a big future for tourism in Olango.In fact, Olango Island is a really beautiful and rural place, very near from Cebu, the second biggest city in the Philippines. However, we are not sure that overpassing the support of the DOT, avoiding the presence of the private sector for the marketing and more than everything dealing with the unjustified revendications of some members of the community by increasing wages and distributing bribes are behaviors that would lead to a well managed community-based tourism program.


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