Editorial: Unmasking eco-tourism-A A +A
Monday, February 11, 2013
TO THOSE who remember the peak of sex tourism in the 1970s and ‘80s, the country’s shift to eco-tourism came like a breath of fresh air.
Cebu, particularly, was a favorite for rest and recreation (R&R), a euphemism that brought, along with a windfall in pesos, dollars, yens and other currency, a spike in women and child exploitation, sexually transmitted infections, and demoralization.
When tourists, vendors and travel tour operators shifted their sights beyond beaches and bitches (B&B) in the enlightened succeeding decades, many extolled the emergence of a consciousness that nurtured pride of place and love of heritage, as well as respect for ecology and sustainable management of natural and indigenous endowments.
There’s a pressing need now to touch base again with these ideals.
Ironically, it comes at a period when eco-tourism continues to be on the ascendancy.
Perhaps the impetus for stakeholders to do serious soul-searching should come from the proliferation of indicators that eco-tourism is turning its back on the principles of ethical, life-affirming, sustainable tourism.
Even before authorities step in to regulate, stakeholders should take the initiative to halt the backsliding of this human- and environment-friendly niche of tourism into the generic motivations of a mass market enterprise operated to extract the maximum profit from a minimum of investments, without heeding the consequences and costs.
In Panglao, Bohol, tourists and their cameras descend like vultures on a tarsier farm.
“Farm” is more apt than a “sanctuary” because this particular enterprise seems more like an eco-business that substitutes the world’s smallest primate, huddling under a small tin roof, for a sex worker awaiting customers in a room in a “casa (brothel).”
Tourists pay P40 to get past the entrance guard, stationed obscurely away from the forlorn alcove where the visitors’ briefing is supposed to be held, ostensibly at some vague point in a never happening future.
From trees spaced at strategic intervals that don’t require tourists to strain themselves beyond taking a few steps up or down a gentle slope among trees, a tarsier clings to a branch, holding on for dear life while tourists click their cameras away for pictures that give them bragging rights about Mother Nature when they are back in civilization.
Posted signs warn tourists not to use flash when they take photos. A caretaker hovers near every viewing deck and its tarsier-on-exhibit. These are paltry measures, though, that don’t take in to consideration two important concerns in eco-tourism:
Does the venture not compromise the welfare of animals?
(Would you eat and pee with all those lenses poked into your face from opening time till closing?)
Does the venture educate people and motivate them to take part in the preservation and management of local heritage, both the natural and man-made?
(This particular tour allots about 15 minutes of photographing the live tarsier and the rest of an hour or more for buying stuffed, mounted, painted, silk-screened, cross-stitched and all varieties of tarsier lookalikes. Unlike with the real tarsier, a tourist can pinch, squeeze, shake and bring home these versions to hold down grocery lists and other posts on the refrigerator.)
A key element in eco-tourism is the involvement of the community. For residents to wisely manage and sustain local heritage, they must see this as intertwined with the present and visceral, particularly livelihood, as well asfor posterity, a shared sense of identity and legacy.
The Loboc River Cruise takes dining visitors cruising past some of Bohol’s greenest and most refreshing scenery. It is also unforgettable for the overpriced tag of P450 per head, which covers lunch that consists of none too fresh seafood, poor man’s noodles and slices of fruit that seem more dried than fresh.
Instead of an account of the river’s tapestried history to accompany the boat as it makes the slow circuit past ancient and majestic trees and verdant greenery, a singer belts out a pop song on the karaoke. After three wailing tributes to unrequited love, the microphone is offered to any of the guests who want to warble. Either the guests are too engrossed with eating or too mystified by what they ate, no one accepts the
challenge to attempt “My Way.”
Just before returning to port, the boat stops before a makeshift stage at the shore.
Women, old men and children in native uniforms perform traditional dances. It may only be a sideshow in the entire Loboc River Cruise but for an interval, tourists glimpse a way of life and celebration that, despite being driven to the margins, infuses the experience with a rare essence of authenticity.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 11, 2013.