MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 24 Jan) – Bukidnon tourism should go beyond the annual Kaamulan and ziplines in pursuit of tourism goals in 2018, according to stakeholders in their responses to “Bukidnon 2018: Public Outlook Series initiative.”
Reynaldo Gil Lomarda, head of Greenminds, Inc., said it is time to focus more on natural and cultural tourism because it is the strength of the province.
He said the province’s Kaamulan, a cultural festival, which he said is already commercialized, happens only once a year.
The provincial government must promote tourism also beyond the festival because Bukidnon is known for its tribes, which should have tourist attractions before and after the festival.
“If we talk about culture tourism in Bukidnon, only Kaamulan will emerge,” Lomarda added.
Bukidnon local governments, he said, must push for a program focusing on “tourism that is unique to Bukidnon”. He lamented that tourists could only picture out pineapples and ziplines upon mention of Bukidnon.
Bukidnon tourism officials could expand their promotion to include indigenous cultural sites and farm sites, Lomarda added.
He said tourism could be used to provide livelihood to the indigenous peoples’ communities with some already started in some areas.
But Lomarda warned that government must prevent exploitation of the IP communities. He said government must support IP communities but not to the extent of exposing them to exploitation as what has happened in other areas.
He cited as example tourist sites in Luzon where tourists just take pictures of tribal folks wearing their attires.
“The IP communities must be part of those who decide on what will be featured and promoted,” Lomarda said.
He added that even during Kaamulan, the tribal sports and other events are scheduled on weekdays with few spectators.
He said the same events could also be organized outside of the Kaamulan to spread out events in partnership with tour operators.
Lomarda’s Greenminds, Inc. runs Umanika Farms, an organic farming site in Malaybalay City that models IP traditional and organic farming. He said farm tourism is also effective in educating the public about farming to help ensure food security.
Maite Abellanosa, chair of the tourism sector of the Bukidnon Kaamulan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., said there has been improvement in tourism in the province.
But she agreed that more should be done to promote agricultural and cultural tourism in the province, focusing on these two as its niche.
“This is what we have, let’s show it to the world,” she said, adding that farm and cultural tourism can be helpful in educating the visitors about the life of farmers and the IP communities.
Abellanosa said the government should make tourism sites more accessible with roads. She added there should be support also to the private sector in government accreditation like for the Department of Tourism and accessing incentives such as those offered by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).
Abellanosa said there should be destinations like a cultural village in Malaybalay, where visitors could learn about the IP way of life without the need to disrupt them in their villages.
She added another add-on could be a youth center, where young people could go for sports and amusements to ensure healthy lifestyle.
“Right now, Malaybalay youth are known to be heavy liquor drinkers, for example,” she added.
Rashia Mae Deva Paano, a student leader at the Bukidnon State University, said however that many of those young people seen drinking in local bars are boarders who are from outside the city.
Annie Emata, department chair of BukSU’s Hospitality Management Department, said tourism stakeholders should consider balancing social, environment and economic objectives to uphold sustainable development in the province.
“That the Bukidnon culture should also be preserved and be promoted to the community, most especially outside Northern Mindanao since cultural tourism is the niche product of Bukidnon,” she added.
Emata said they also aspire for the government, private sector and the academe to work closely to provide learning experiences to students.
BukSU has planned to open its own hotel earlier this year to cater to the needs of its students and personnel, which is also open for guests of Bukidnon.
Reuel Gallo, who runs a restaurant in Malaybalay and founder of the Bukidnon Visitors’ Guide, said improvement in the road networks and the operation of the Don Carlos airport would help attract more visitors.
Government agencies such as DOT, TIEZA, the Department of Public Works and Highways and related offices, he added, must coordinate and work together for Bukidnon to be one of the top destinations in the country.
He said he hopes “every municipality and city in the province will be able to explore, identify and develop a product and tourist attraction”.
Earl Bolivar, a banker, photographer and author of the award-winning travel blog “Suroy Pilipinas,” said local government units must recognize and promote lesser known destinations.
He said the LGUs should initiate identification and promotion of these sites in their areas. But he said there is a need for public-private partnership in developing the sites’ accessibility and the amenities.
“It would be better if they develop the sites without destroying the natural environment of the sites,” Bolivar added.
He also sought to encourage tourists to be more environment-friendly, especially those who are fond of mountain climbing.
Bolivar said there should be a Bukidnon museum to showcase culture and traditions. BukSU runs an ethno-cultural museum, which was recently moved to a bigger space in its Bukidnon Studies Center building.
Jose Benito Ronolo, a community development educator at BukSU, said local government units’ tourism efforts should push helping IP talents such as the development of music albums of IP artists and be involved in development of tourist spots. He said they should get involved in IP researches because culture evolves and “we lack books created by our own.”
Raiza Maicah A. Layos, Valencia City’s tourism officer, said it counts to have tourism development and promotion – improvement of tourist attractions and the community as a whole.
She said there are both man-made and natural attractions in Bukidnon but generally what hampers tourism is the notion that “Mindanao is not safe” and that infrastructure is poor.
The tourism officers of the Province of Bukidnon and the City of Malaybalay agreed to contribute to “Bukidnon 2018: Public Outlook” but were unable to provide information as of noon of January 24.
Layos said accessibility is crucial along with proximity to gateways like airports, ports and terminals.
She said tourists also check on amenities like rest areas, food shops, toilets, among others. She said other offerings such as boating, zipline, playground for kids, mini zoo, socio and cultural events also count.
Layos said tourists will check readiness of the hospitality sector to provide lodging, food and other services like shops.
“With all these present, the next thing is how to market or promote these attractions,” she added.
She said for Valencia City, they still need to intensify development and promotion of their tourist spots and create a good plan so that the city and the community will benefit from tourism.
William Kopp, who runs Eiffel Kubo, a Malaybalay-based French restaurant serving native dishes, said they envision local tourism as an opportunity to experience the most meaningful culture of Bukidnon.
“By means of meeting and briefly sharing the natives’ way of living, thinking, worshipping, cultivating and creating, tourists shall be transformed, hence become advocates of their cause for harmony and peace,” he added. (Walter I. Balane)
[BUKIDNON 2018: PUBLIC OUTLOOK SERIES is a community journalism project that seeks to provide space for the public to speak up on the future of the province in 2018. The editorial team sent text messages and sought interviews with random sources from different sectors in the province from December 25 to 28, 2017. The responses were consolidated and categorized thematically and then used as bases for stories in these pieces. React to email@example.com.]