After gaining infamy as having the world’s worst traffic condition by mobile application Waze, Cebu finally received recognition as one of the world’s best from an unlikely place, via one of its poorer towns, Aloguinsan.
Aloguinsan is the only area in the Philippines that was included in the list of the world’s top 100 sustainable tourism destinations.
The municipality, about 73.2 kilometers southwest of Cebu City, has been given this recognition by Green Destination, an online global partnership of five big names in sustainable tourism and endorsed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, National Geographic and the World Wildlife Fund, according to Cebu Provincial Tourism Officer Joselito Costas.
Costas added that being included in the list now ranks Bojo River alongside the famous sustainable global destinations such as the Niagara Falls in Canada, Cape Town in South Africa and Jackstone Hole and Yellowstone in the United States of America.
He said residents and town officials alike were pleasantly shocked by the recognition, considering that Aloguinsan is a fourth-class town with an annual income of only P8.8 million and population of just a little over 32,000.
Costas, on his Facebook page, said they learned about Aloguinsan winning a place in the 100 sustainable destinations list through an email from the organizers of the search yesterday.
Costas said they were nominated for the recognition last June by the Society of Sustainable Tourism and Development Inc., a Philippine-based group that advocates and teaches green tourism to various stakeholders, including local government units.
Costas said that after sending the requirements and series of email interviews about Bojo River, they were informed in August that they were moving to the next phase. Sixty experts formed the judging panel who did three judging rounds since June, he said.
Aloguinsan tourism officer Shane Manigos Navarro, who also received an email from the organizer informing her of the recognition, said that they did not expect to land a place in the list of the top 100 sustainable destinations in the world.
“We are a fourth-class municipality. Sa among kagamay, we are recognized in the world. Nindot sa feeling (Our municipality is small yet we are recognized in the world. It’s a nice feeling),” Navarro said.
According to Navarro, local residents have long known the tourism potential of the 1.4-kilometer Bojo River, that is why they took it upon themselves to ensure that its environment will continue to be clean, especially since the municipality has been the proponent of the river cruise that was started in 2013.
She said some villagers have been booking tourists for a river tour, similar to the more popular Loboc River cruise in Bohol. Unlike Loboc, however, Bojo River is placid and tourists can take small wooden boats, allowing a panoramic vista of mangroves forests that are a habitat of about 60 bird species.
Aloguinsan faces Negros Island and Bojo River empties to the Tañon Strait.
Navarro said that while the municipal government has been a strong advocate of nature-based tourism, they were not initially keen on joining the selection process until they realized that the project of Green Destination could be their ticket to worldwide recognition.
“The recognition given to us can boost our tourism (industry) as well as our economy. Knowing that we are just a fourth-class municipality, (the recognition) will have tremendous impact on us,” said Navarro.
Costas, on the other hand, said that although they are not expecting tourists to start coming en mass to Aloguinsan, the recognition legitimizes the branding of the town as green tourist destination.
The town’s tourism industry also got a boost last year when the Bojo River cruise was awarded the 2015 UN Tourism INSPIRE Awards for Best Community-based Tourism Initiative in Asia-Pacific.
According to Costas, Green Destinations will formally announce today in Ljubljana, Slovenia its list of the 100 sustainable destinations around the world.
Costas said that in deciding which area will be included in the list, Green Destination has set core criteria – including sustainability of the project, the local tourism policy, nature protection measures and the site’s cultural heritage, among others.
Costas said the community of Bojo is giving scholarships to poor children, including those not even from their town’s barangay, funded by their income from the Bojo River cruise.
“That’s one factor. . . . You can see the sustainable tourism (in the area). When you talk about sustainable tourism, you are talking about how are you spreading the benefits of the tourism to the local community,” Costas said.