SAGAY CITY – The City Government of Sagay has stepped up efforts in promoting community-based tourism to help generate livelihood for the residents and boost the local economy, its top official said.

Mayor Alfredo Marañon III, who led the opening of the 21st Sinigayan Festival at the public plaza of this northern Negros city Wednesday, said they are currently developing the Suyac Island in Barangay Taba-ao as a tourism site.

Marañon said the area is being managed by an assisted-group called “Sietas” or the Suyac Island Eco Tourism Association.

“It is a community-based tourism initiative since the people there are trained and equipped on how to manage the area to earn for their livelihood,” he said.

To further augment their income, the city government has assisted the pump boat operators who carry passengers to and from Suyac Island, and other tourist destinations.

Based on the “development loop” it has crafted, Sagay plans to jump to other areas like Molocaboc Island after developing the Suyac Island.

These areas will complement already-established tourism offerings like Carbin Reef, Museo sang Bata sa Negros, Vito Church, among others.

In his speech, Marañon said the theme, “Where love for nature begins,” of this year’s festivity expresses the city government’s effort and adherence to the laws of natures as responsible stewards of the environment.

“It is our ecotourism branding and collective goal,” Marañon said, adding that the protection of marine sanctuary as one of the sought after destinations in the region is a work in progress.

Sagay hosts the 22,000-hectare Sagay Marine Reserve, one of the biggest marine protected areas in the country.

For his part, Undersecretary Austere Panadero of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, who was the guest of honor at the opening rites, said Sagay City given its sustainable protection and conservation efforts can be considered the “environment capital” of the country.

Panadero, who also hails from Sagay, said many local governments are currently replicating Sagay’s effort of planting more mangroves in the coastal areas for protection during disasters.

The DILG official vowed support to the city in further developing its ecotourism sector through environment conservation measures, particularly under its infrastructure function.

“We have initiated a lot of projects that have benefited the city like water systems and road development through bottom-up budgeting program to complement those of other agencies like Department of Tourism and Department of Environment and Natural Resources,” he said.

Panadero and Marañon also led the opening of Festival Villages that promote agricultural and fishery products, livestock and poultry sectors, as well as the city’s flourishing art industry.

This year’s festival will run until March 19 to be highlighted by the Sinigay sa Sagay Saot Para sa Dunang Manggad – Street Dancing Competition.