JASON A. BAGUIA
Although the state’s weather bureau predicts that February will be quite cool or cold, things will eventually change and tourists will once again be on the move, taking advantage of days of hot weather.
For the travel and tourism industry, however, the Philippine dry season does not need to arrive to keep things busy. In these months, travelers come to these parts to escape the worst of winter’s chill.
Two of my friends, one from Montenegro and the other from Germany came over in December and January, and we visited many places in the mainlands of Cebu, Bohol, and Siquijor provinces (the last being an island I visited for the very first time).
It was pleasantly surprising to see, especially in Bohol and Siquijor that there was a good mix of locals and foreigners enjoying the holidays here. (I have always believed that we as a nation offer the best Christmas experience this side of life).
Siquijor was especially a draw for visitors from other parts of the world. Its coastal waters are perfect for snorkeling, teeming with corals undulating and multi-colored fishes you might have thought you can only see on Discovery or National Geographic. There is little light pollution so the constellations are a wonder to be hold in nights ushered in by sunsets, especially on the west by San Juan town, that teach you a thing or two about splendor. If you are an early riser, you can treat yourself to some lovely quiet time, walking to the distant water’s edge at low tide where clouds and sun are mirrored by the calm sea.
At the resorts where we stayed across the three islands, I met people from Germany, Austria, and Belgium. I saw and overheard persons of Sinic, Russian, and native English origins.
When I mentioned to my German friend that the Philippines is projected to be the 14th largest economy in the world, if all things go well, by the year 2050, she said that tourism will probably be an important part of this improved global economic standing.
So it behooves environment and tourism authorities and players to ensure that our natural resources are preserved for generations to come and that our hospitality is enhanced for visitors from here and abroad. Here are some sugggestions that I hope will be well taken:
1. Comfort rooms and dressing rooms in tourist spots should be built or renovated. In several places, they are just nonexistent or too rundown to be of any use. Running water and soap should be made always available. If possible, locales should enact ordinances to incentivize the cleanest and most comforable public toilets (and publicly list the least hospitable ones). Comfort rooms should be decently functional especially in inter-island ferries.
2. Restaurants should always have vegan and vegetarian options on their menu. If such options are already listed, they should be available. Our guests do not often share our dining habits, and if governments in many places succeed in their campaign to integrate vegetarianism into the drive to reverse global warming, a large segment of tourists is likely to stop eating meat, fish, and their derivatives.
3. Tourist police should add to their office duties that of monitoring transactions at motorbike and tricycle pickup points and similar places. Guidebooks like the ones published by Lonely Planet list estimated prices for tourists who wish to use these local forms of transportation, but this does not eliminate the possibility that drivers overcharge.
4. Our boys and girls should be given enhanced gender sensitivity training starting at grade school. Visitors, especially women, should not, when they walk our streets at night or in broad daylight be exposed to catcalling by our “tambays” or construction workers.
5. Locals should have regular community cleanup drives. It is just annoying to sit somewhere idyllic and to suddenly find pieces of plastic drifting over the waters. Across locales, governments should improve garbage collection and treatment. They leave so much to be desired.
6. The economic rights of farming and fishing communities who are affected by development for travel and tourism purposes should be protected. Options such as cooperativism should be pursued and well-funded. We cannot in good conscience accept a situation where a few end up owning properties and prospering at the cost of making paupers out of original settlers and landowners who sell their lands.
7. Travel should be regulated. I agree with Joselito Costas, Cebu provincial tourism head, who said something to the effect that it would be far better to charge higher prices while hosting fewer travelers than to make our beautiful spots too accessible to swarms that would leave these places badly worn and sick.
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