Tourism from caves to coffins: what share for tourists guides in Sagada?
How to share the profits of tourism? This question is raised at each interview. This is what differenciate fair tourism from mass tourism: the first one tries to split the profits among the community to have a good impact on the living conditions of the people involved in the project while in the second the money is concentrated in the hands of a few people, mainly tour operators from big cities.
After a four-hours trip on the roof of a bus in the middle of the Cordilliera chain of mountains to reach the small village of Sagada, we were able to meet George and Raffy from « Sagada Environmental Guides Association » (SEGA). Raffy brought us to the hanging coffins and to the Sumaging cave, it was a wonderful experience and we could enjoy the comments of our guide on the culture and history of Sagada.
Created in the 90s to train competent guides, SEGA currently has 60 permanent guides and 50 apprentices. The selection process to become a guide is demanding. Candidtates must first spend two years in apprenticeship where they learn how to handle tourists, the first aid training, and get education on environment issues. They accompany the professional guides while they are working. After these 2 years, if they succeed to join SEGA, they must pay Php 3,500 membership fee. SEGA encourages the young to go to college before applying in the organization. In Fact, being a guide will not bring enough money to live decently, especially during the low season. They must thus find another source of income.
What is really interesting is that SEGA is working on a fair and democratic basis. There is an election every two years and the guides are rotating for everyone in the association to get a chance to work. The price is fixed at 500 pesos and bargaining is not possible. In addition, there are some solidarity mechanisms in the association: the membership fees are used for emergency purposes (a member can request a loan if he is in a difficult situation) and part of this fee goes to schools or religious events in the community.
The preservation of the culture and the environment is part of SEGA’s work and mission. Guides are asked to collect trashes on their way and must educate tourists to do the same. They also have a planting trees operation once a year. If there is a religious event, the guides will not bring the tourists in this place. Moreover, some religious sites are closed to the tourists to preserve it. Culture is really important, it « is what is binding the community« , according to George, the President of SEGA.
However, the government authorized the existence of another group of guides, created by guides who did not tolerate the selective entry process of SEGA. This organization is not following the ethic rules of SEGA and the guides are not as well-trained. George wants the guides to stay united to avoid the situation of Banaue, where there are no rules for guiding and there is a sharp competition for clients. In Banaue, he says that « when you are a tourist going out of the bus, you a are a shit and guides are flies ». By chance, SEGA has a better reputation than the other group and tourists know they are more competent.
SEGA plans to open new circuits of 2 to 4 days in the surroundings of Sagada with treks in rice terraces, swimming in waterfalls and caving. Be the first one to try it !!!