The island province of Bohol was the fitting venue for the 9th United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Asia Pacific Executive Training on Tourism Policy and Strategy held from 28 April to 1 May 2015. Focused on community-based tourism (CBT) and tourism recovery, Bohol is deemed a model area for tourism policy and strategy. The province quickly recovered after being hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in October 2013, the deadliest to hit the country in 23 years.
After two years, the province has come out stronger, more creative, and resilient. Bohol is also proud of the new tourism products that its people created to restore confidence in the destination. “Bohol is a monument to the management of tourism; it is a testament to the rebuilding of a tourism business that is even stronger than before the disaster,” Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. said at the welcome ceremony.
The four-day training was targeted at capacitating senior officials of the national tourism organizations of the UNWTO member countries on formulating policies and strategies to improve tourism competitiveness in the region. Attended by 25 foreign and 15 local participants, the event was co-organized by the Department of Tourism (DOT) and sponsored by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
Present during the opening ceremonies were Bohol Governor Edgardo Chatto, DOT Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr., UNWTO Deputy Director for the Regional Programme for Asia and the Pacific Mr. Harry Hwang and Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism Assistant Minister Mr. Jae-Won Kim.
The CBT and Tourism Recovery sessions were introduced through lectures by the UNWTO consultants Robert Basiuk and Narzalina Lim, respectively. These were followed by country presentations, totaling 18 sessions. The Philippine delegation was led by DOT Regional Director for Eastern Visayas Karina Tiopes, who presented the paper on CBT focusing on Donsol and Pamilacan whale watching projects.
The workshop session yielded recommendations that include the need for convergence amongst government, private sector, and local communities to sustain “building for better” infrastructure, strengthen community-based cooperatives, and deepen work commitments towards sustainable tourism.
The technical tours served to expose the attendees to the practical application of the themes on community-based tourism and tourism recovery. Aside from witnessing actual production in some community-based projects—such as Ironsmith at Loay, Calamay Processing at Albur, Raffia Loom Weaving at Tubigon, and the Balay sa Humay (rice production) Learning Experience in Bilar— the participants also experienced some parts of the production process and an immersion in the way of life in the community.
The Tourism Recovery module, on the other hand, included a visit to the Clarin Ancestral House, a 170-year old heritage house now operated as a museum housing traditional Filipino-Spanish furniture and other artifacts. It is a model for adaptive reuse having the structure’s lower portion, formerly used as storage for agricultural produce and now converted into a boutique restaurant.
Declared as a National Geological Monument, the more than 1,700 limestone hills collectively known as Chocolate Hills continue to amaze both first-time and repeat visitors. Lunch aboard the boat along the Loboc River was made memorable with the community cultural performances by the riverbank. Firefly Watching along the Abatan River educated the participants about the life cycle of the fireflies and the importance of good governance and community vigilance to maintain the rivers’ good health.
These projects received technical and financial assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the provincial government, and the DOT. The said projects are also the components of the Bohol Ecotourism Surprise Tours, a program that boosts ecotourism development in Bohol.
The tour also passed by the iconic heritage churches, most of them damaged by the earthquake and are now undergoing restoration. The culminating activity was the “tree for legacy” planting exercise at the Bohol Biodiversity Complex, after receiving a mini-lecture on biodiversity and tour of the area.