The Pandan’s CBET project
Characteristics and issues in pursuing community-based ecotourism (CBET)
We just left Boracay, the “Jewel of the Philippines”, its 3km long white sand beach and its crowd, to arrive in the quiet town of Pandan in the Antique province. Only few tourists around. People say « Hi », children call us and hide themselves when we turn back. The “remote” Philippines as we like it. Not that remote though: Pandan is only 1h by bus from Boracay and used to be a stop-over on the unique road from Kalibo to Caticlan, before a “short-cut” was built between these two towns. It thus offers a good alternative for tourists who want to experience the Filipino culture and activities on the Bugang River.
Our first meeting with a tourism officer
Jude D. Sanchez, Municipal Councilor (Chair Committee on Appropriation, Finance, Budget, Cooperaative and NGO and Tourism) of Pandan is waiting for us in the municipal meeting room. We were excited about this interview as it was our first meeting with a representative of a Local Government Unit (LGU). While we were doing some research about sustainable tourism in Panay, we discovered a presentation on the community-based ecotourism’s initiative of Pandan which raised our interest as it gave a good overview on the characteristics and issues related to this kind of development project. This interview gave us interesting insights about the role of a LGU in implementing and ensuring the sustainability of a community-based ecotourism initiative.
Preparing, organizing and training the local community. A necessity for the success of community-based tourism
After a year of training and preparation through the Local Government Support Program (capacity-building project), the first Nature and Adventure Bugang River Tour was launched in 2004. The program was initiated by Mr Sanchez of the LGU but he decided to leave the project to a NGO (the Antique Development Foundation) working in collaboration with the cooperative in the community so that the project does not depend on elections. Government is then only “a catalyst of the project”.
Sir Sanchez chose to make the definition of Harris and Vogel his own: “Community –based tourism is regarded as a tool for natural and cultural resource conservation and community development and it is closely associated with ecotourism, sometimes referred as community based ecotourism. It is a community-based practice that provides contributions and incentives for natural and cultural conservation as well as providing opportunities to improve community livelihood.”
However, community-based tourism must follow some rules. Firstly, Sir Sanchez insists on the right of the communities to say no to tourism. After explaining the pros and cons to them, their understanding and consent are crucial to the success of a tourism program. Secondly, the community must be trained to handle tourists: understand their needs, communicate some stories about the local culture and environment. Thirdly, the profits should be fairly shared in the community. Fourthly, the project should be environmentally sustainable: conservation programs of the local natural resources must be implemented and environmental education of the community and tourists must be a priority. Moreover, tourists must respect traditional culture and visit the place in small groups to minimize their impact. To ensure this good behavior a briefing is given to them prior to the trips. Finally, inappropriate ceremonies must be avoided.
A lack of recognition
Unfortunately, Mr Sanchez revealed to us that there are fewer and fewer tourists coming. Even though, this project received different prizes and was promoted in TV shows and magazines, tour-operators are more and more demanding: “They continuously asked us to reduce the tour’s time and the price”. Mr Sanchez tried to explain them that many people are contributing to the success of the tour and all the revenues are going to the community. For a group of 25 participants, 85 community members are mobilized, 25 bangkas, 10 rafts…
The main challenge the community is facing is the marketing of their product. Sir Sanchez thinks that more private partners are needed in order to attract tourists. Also, many organizations are pretending performing ecotourism, regrets Mr Sanchez. A certification’s organization for ecotourism should be created to control and award the best practices. Finally, he wishes that a national institution for community-based tourism was set-up to represent, unify and promote community-based tourism in the Philippines.