WHAT makes a destination more exciting? Scenic views, great adventures, good food, best accommodation and welcoming community. For Sipalay City, it's more than that, sustainability is of the essence.
The "Jewel of the Sugar Island" continues to package itself and envisions as a leader of sustainable tourism in the province.
In fact, the Department of Tourism in Western Visayas has banked on the southern Negros Occidental city to be a recipient of the Asean Clean Tourist City and among the Top 100 Sustainable Destinations. This is mainly because of its consistent efforts on promoting environment protection and conservation.
Blessed with abundant beaches and resorts, Sipalay is already home to various water-related activities that have been attracting local and foreign tourists. For now, it is on its way to develop ecotourism and adventure tourism sites.
Sipalay City Tourism Officer Jerick Lacson said they are developing community-based ecotourism programs for the city's mangrove forests and river systems.
Lacson said Sipalay hosts more than 60 caves, the most number in the entire Negros Island according to Western Visayas Caving Association. Thus, they are currently working on developing sustainable cave tourism activities like caving and trekking.
"It should be supported by the creation of a Cave Management Ordinance to protect and regulate these critical natural attractions," he said.
Sipalay looks forward to a community-based ecotourism program for the Pana-on - Poblacion, one of the three tourism circuits being developed.
It is creating a tour package that includes a community run "baroto" or small paddle boat mangrove tour. Since the river is teeming with mangroves, the presence of bird species is very evident so birdwatching activity can be incorporated in the tour.
One of the stops during the tour is the traditional process of catching, cleaning and drying of "barongoy" or flying fish among other interesting fishing village activities.
Other activities are tricycle sunset tour which is already being offered to tourists and benefiting trike drivers, and good meals at the food park.
Other ecotourism projects the city is banking on are Dul-ongan-Sugar Beach Tourism Circuit development and Dul-ongan Islets and Mangrove Forest Protected Area Tour including "tamilok" food tasting and visits to Dul-ongan Cave and Canturay Waterfalls.
Lacson said they want to utilize other tourism resources of the city and maximize the benefits of the growing number of tourists thus, they are looking into creating ecotourism programs that promote conservation, awareness, and education.
"We don't want to be a destination for mass tourism and follow the path of other bigger tourism attractions which are suffering from the negative consequences of overdevelopment," Lacson said, adding that "we want it to be sustainable and as natural as possible."
In Sipalay, tourism development is inclusive. Meaning, it does not only give income to businesses and resorts but also provide livelihood opportunities to the farmers, fisherfolk and other marginalized groups while at the same time increasing the awareness of tourists on the protection of natural resources.
Another salient feature is community-based tourism development as the city is involving people's organizations, local associations and cooperatives to manage ecotourism enterprises.
Lacson said they want to empower these groups to become development leaders and enable them to earn directly.
Also, since it is community-based, the locals feel a sense of pride and ownership of the natural resources which, in return, will make them as active protectors.
This will surely aid the city government in its implementation of environment-related ordinances, he added.
Tourism is an industry that has no "season" thus, it could generate economic activities anytime of the year.
Considered as an alternative potential industry, it is actually seen to save the economy of Negros if sugar industry continuous to slump.
With such a critical role it plays, the need to make tourism more sustainable should be given much attention now. Environment protection and conservation is a must.
As it move towards this direction, Sipalay City promises to offer a kind of experience to tourists -- a sustained excitement that even future generations can also look forward to.