Oro pushes for regulation of whitewater rafting industry

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Monday, June 16, 2014


CAGAYAN DE ORO - The City Government is pushing for the regulation of the million peso white water rafting industry following the international standards to prevent any repeat of the tragic accident that killed an adventure tourist last Friday.

Mayor Oscar Moreno presses for the safety of the adventure tourists that have been patronizing the city’s premier tourism destination.

The city tourism registers around 120,000 rafting guests annually and with an average of P700 per person it can roughly earn P84 million. There are six rafting outfitters in the city.

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“How can we assure safety to the tourists? That is the important question here. Questions raised before were already answered but the question now remains – is white water rafting safe?” Moreno said.

“The backdrop here is that we have good [tour] operators, but the missing link here is the regulation,” he added.

Moreno said local outfitters belonging to the Oro Association of Rafters (OAR) managed to squeeze in their recommendation just before he made up his mind to suspend all white water rafting and kayaking tours.

“We opted not to suspend the whitewater rafting and kayaking operations because we will study the set of recommendations,” Moreno said.

The City Government is creating a committee on the regulation to be headed by former Department of Tourism director for northern Mindanao Dorothy Jean Pabayo.

The committee will study the recommendations made by the association of whitewater rafting operators. It will be comprised of tour operators and engineers who would help the organization. And new measures will also be introduced, Moreno assured.

“Let us optimize. Let us not put Aizza’s death in vain,” he said.

On June 14, in a press conference at Moreno’s office, he said the rafting industry is self-regulated since the players are experts in this tourism venture.

River guides
CAGAYAN DE ORO. Despite the white water rafting incident on Friday, June 13, rafting tours scheduled on Saturday, June 14, 2014 continue. This group of tourists passes by the site where the search of the missing tourist is ongoing. Mayor Oscar Moreno mulls on suspending the rafting tours if there isn’t assurance that the incident won’t recur. (Photo by Erwin M. Mascariñas)


Ensure safety

OAR, the trade group of the local outfitters, recommended five unified countermeasures they will implement to ensure the safety of the tourists.
The group recommended that an additional guide aboard another kayak will be deployed in each of the already identified dangerous sections, or “critical points” of the river.

The tour operators also agreed to reduce the rafting trip from three hours to only an hour as extra precautionary measure.

An extra trained guide will ride with the raft in addition to the regular guide now being practiced; and guests will now be given intensive lectures on handling and paddling techniques.

“The accident is an eye opener for the local government and the industry itself. We must come up with measures to save this industry by emphasizing on the safety of the tourists,” Moreno said.

Young industry

“The level here is just very standard. [CDO] is a young industry, it is learning. They [rafting guides] do not have a lot of experience unlike guides in other countries. But what they have is already good,” International Rafting Federation head Mark Joffe said.

Joffe added that trainings and further education should be a priority now considering the accident that killed Aizza Mae Calipusan Balbin.

However, he believes that nature has to do with the accident. “It is a natural river. You are not 100 percent in control of it since it is a constantly changing environment. Adventure travels and tourism all over the world have also cases like this. Saddening as it is, this is not a unique incident. At least that is for Cagayan de Oro. It happens all over the world,” he said.

However, he reiterated that trainings for the guides should be done to improve them more.

Cremated

Balbin fell from the rubber raft that overturned as it negotiated the second to the last rapid that was nearing the end of the basic course she and her friends opted. The raft capsized after hitting a huge limestone outcropping.

All aboard fell to the rampaging water and river guides believed Balbin was sucked under a labyrinth of tunnels under the limestone outcropping.

Chisum Factura of Kagay Journey White Water Rafting and Kayaking (Kagay) said their seven river guides found the body of Balbin wedged between a crack at the bottom of the limestone outcropping.

The Cagayan de Oro City Government shouldered the expenses for the P35,000 cremation service at one of the memorial homes in the city and the transportation expenses of the five Balbin family members who came here.

“We are saddened that she (Balbin) came here to our city to have fun and it ended in a tragedy. We are doing all we can to ease the pain of the family,” Moreno said.

Currently, regulation on the rafting fees is clear where tourists pay P700 for the basic course comprising the completion of 14 rapids and P1000 for the advance course that runs 22 rapids.

Factura told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro that Kagay could get around 900 to 1000 rafting guests in a month and usually there are more bookings in the summer.

Catalino Chan III, DOT-Northern Mindanao director, said that the city tourism registers around 120,000 rafting guests in a year.

“We have to regulate all of the tour operators but at the same time, we assure them also that they will still profit. Dili sila ma-alkansi. It is important that there is no undercutting. By undercutting, all operators must not reduce their fees far from the regulated price,” Pabayo said.

Moreno agreed with Pabayo saying, “we unite them [tour operators], that is the purpose of the regulation. By unifying, it is for the betterment even if they are competing.” (With a report from Froilan Gallardo)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on June 17, 2014.

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