Rafting rate hike pushed due to expensive equipment

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Monday, July 21, 2014


DUE to the changes in their operations, the six whitewater rafting operators in Cagayan de Oro hinted on wanting to increase the rates of the services they offer.

“There are many things that we considered before raising the issue on rate increase. All of them are reasonable,” Kagay Journey-White Water Rafting and Kayaking co-owner Chisum Factura said.

Primarily, they consider the equipment used such as the imported paddle, helmet, rafts and vests, and their maintenance.

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“Rates should really increase because we need money to keep the business going such as the maintenance of the equipment like the raft. When they wear out, we have to buy another one which is expensive,” Factura said.

On June 18, Task Force Rapids (TFR) drafted its report on its evaluation of the rafting community, especially the training of the river guides. The six outfitters also added their draft to the report.

One of the items in the list of suggestions and recommendations that were highlighted is the purchase of handheld transceivers since these are expensive.

Factura argued buying them is impractical because the river guides would still be required to bring fully-charged mobile phones with them.

“Personally, I see its impracticality because it means there will be additional costs to our regular expenses in the company. It is not the city government which will pay for it, but us (outfitters),” he said.

TFR consultant and former Department of Tourism regional director for Northern Mindanao Dorothy Jean Pabayo said that radio handheld transceivers will ensure additional safety for the tourists.

“Although it is costly, but we can be at least assured to ensure safety to our tourists who will encounter at most five dangerous rapids during the [whitewater rafting run],” Pabayo said.

She added there is no budget allocation for the devices yet, so the outfitters are likely to spend for them.

“There is no money to fund these devices yet so we ask the outfitters to spend for them [in the meantime],” she said.

Factura, however, said the river guides know the river well and the International Rafting Federation had seen their skills and adeptness in handling the rapids.

“Mark Joffe (head of the IRF) even asked me why the river guides in Cagayan de Oro, with or without training, has so much skills in ‘reading’ the river [...] This tells us that we do not really need any additional gadget there except for our mobile phones,” he said.

TFR is now looking into getting funds from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza) since the City cannot fund them.

“There is no [really money]. Many people have told me the city council is hindering everything the city is doing and I am saddened with this. I hope they give us money [already] because we are talking about tourism here,” Pabayo said.

Some untrained on basic life support, emergency

Not all of the 90 river guides have undergone training on basic life support and emergency first aid from the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).

This was among the findings of TFR, which was organized by Mayor Oscar Moreno.

Pabayo said the task force is winding down its investigation after spending more than a month of coordination with different government agencies.

“We have come up with a set of recommendations that will ensure the safety of tourists riding the white water adventure tours,” Pabayo said.

She explained the task force was not organized to find out who was responsible for the accident but to ensure that tougher safety measures will be implemented by the six tour operators in the famous white water adventure.

“First, it was an accident, and second, we want that it will not happen again in the future. If indeed something will happen, a proper structure of agencies will be there to assist,” Pabayo said.

[READ: Rafting mishap that killed tourist ‘an accident’]

Pabayo presented copies of the investigation results and the recommendations to Moreno on July 18.

She said the task force recommended the river guides undergo more training on river scouting, ferrying, Z-drag sessions, throw bag accuracy and swift water rescue.

She said the trainings will be supervised by the PRC and the Philippine Coast Guard, which will be the agencies that will issue accreditations.

Periodic tests on rafts

Pabayo said the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) will also subject all inflatable rafts to periodic tests to ensure they are worthy to use.

“The Marina will mark all rafts with their own individual markings and conduct periodic checks,” she said.

Moreno lauded the efforts of the multi-agency task force he created following the death of Aizza Calipusan Balbin, the 26-year-old Boholana nurse who died after their raft capsized in the Cagayan de Oro River last June 14.

[READ: Tourist missing as raft capsizes in Cagayan de Oro River]

“But I cannot say there is closure because the investigation has been concluded. I say the life of Aizza is not a closed chapter. She will continue to remind us to do our best to ensure safety in the tours,” Moreno said.

Moreno assured that he will not compromise safety in dealing with the adventure tours that made Cagayan de Oro famous as the “White Waters Capital of the Philippines.”

“We should be uncompromising on safety. This is the bottom line,” the mayor said.

Worst experience

Factura said the accident involving Balbin was the worst that his company had experienced.

“We were in constant worry that I and our guides could not find time to sleep. We worried about how the parents of Aizza would react,” Factura described the days following the capsizing accident.

“I am looking at this business with a new meaning. More safety [measures are needed],” he added.

Factura said all tour operators have agreed to educate their clients about the nature of the dangerous sections of the river, classified as Class III using the International Scale of River Difficulty standards.

Dangerous parts of the river

They are the “Rodeo,” where the raft of Balbin capsized; “Surprise,” the rapids before “Rodeo” which have strong currents; and “S,” a very tricky part of the river where only those classified as experts are allowed to raft.

Vital Espulgar, president of the outfitters’ trade association, the Oro Association of Rafters, and operations manager of the Golden Friendship Outfitter, estimated that at least 500 clients have backed out after learning of the rafting accident.

“We are feeling the crunch and we will wait how the city government can help us,” Espulgar said.

The City Government has promised to help by asking local hotels promote the white water adventure tours again to tourists. (With Froilan Gallardo/Mindanews)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 21, 2014.

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