SUSTAINABILITY commitment (social, environmental, or economic) is one of the factors that made Barangay Bojo in Aloguinsan, Cebu stand out from the rest of the villages in the Philippines. It was that factor that propelled it to capture another international title, this time as one of this year's best tourism villages in the world.

Community tourism advocate Boboi Costas, one of the brains behind the Bojo River eco-tourism project, could not agree more, saying for this quaint village, located approximately two hours away from Cebu City, its commitment for sustainability was "obvious from the very start."

But he said sustainability is a journey and life-long process.

"It's an ongoing process where you learn along the way. It's a journey, so every step of the way, you celebrate the success and triumph, but it doesn't mean that you reach a certain point of sustainability," he said, while admitting that Bojo has a lot to improve.

Bojo, famous for its scenic 1.4-kilometer river that is home to lush mangrove forest and various kinds of birds and fish, has reaped several awards, local and international. The latest, given last December 2, 2021 by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in Madrid, Spain, was testament to its commitment to not only preserve the environment and the village's community-based values, but make tourism as driver of rural development, said Costas.

Aside from Bojo, 43 other villages from 32 countries across the five regions of the world got the Best Tourism Villages label. These include the following:

* Bekhovo, Russian Federation

* Bkassine, Lebanon

* Caspalá, Argentina

* Castelo Rodrigo, Portugal

* Cuetzalan del Progreso, Mexico

* Cumeada, Portugal

* Gruyères, Switzerland

* Batu Puteh, Malaysia

* Kaunertal, Austria

* Le Morne, Mauritius

* Lekunberri, Spain

* Maní, Mexico

* Misfat Al Abriyeen, Oman

* Miyama, Japan

* Mokra Gora, Serbia

* Morella, Spain

* Mustafapasa, Turkey

* Nglanggeran, Indonesia

* Niseko, Japan

* Nkotsi Village, Rwanda

* Old Grand Port, Mauritius

* Olergesailie, Kenya

* Ollantaytambo, Peru

* Pano Lefkara, Cyprus

* Pica, Chile

* Pochampally, India

* Puerto Williams, Chile

* Radovljica, Slovenia

* Rijal Alma'a, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

* Testo Alto, Brazil

* Saas Fee, Switzerland

* San Cosme y Damián, Paraguay

* San Ginesio, Italy

* Sidi Kaouki, Morocco

* Solcava, Slovenia

* Soufli, Greece

* Tarakli, Turkey

* The Purple Island, Republic of Korea

* Ungok Village, Republic of Korea

* Valposchiavo, Switzerland

* Wonchi, Ethiopia

* Xidi, China

* Yucun, China

"All of them stand out for their natural and cultural resources, as well as for their innovative and transformative actions and commitment to the development of tourism in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)," said UNWTO in its website.



The search was launched in April this year and only countries -- not individuals -- can nominate the villages. The nominated villages also need to pass nine areas of evaluation, which include cultural and natural resources; promotion and conservation of cultural resources; economic, social and environmental sustainability; tourism potential and development and value chain integration; governance and prioritization of tourism; infrastructure and connectivity; and health, safety and security.

Costas said that in the Philippines, three grassroots communities were nominated by the Department of Tourism (DOT): Bojo, Aloguinsan; Barangay Tenani in Paranas, Samar; and one in Mindanao.

"Out of the three, only Bojo made it to the top 44," he said.

But Barangay Tenani, along with 19 other villages in the world, qualified for the UNWTO Upgrade Programme.

"They were not able to satisfy the nine areas for evaluation but the best part of this is that those villages that did not qualify for the Best Tourism Villages label will still receive assistance and mentoring from the UNWTO," said Costas.

The other villages UNWTO will be working with under the Upgrade Programme are:

* Ordino, Andorra

* Khinalig, Azerbaijan

* Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria

* Kaštelir Labinci, Croatia

* Agros, Cyprus

* Fuwah, Egypt

* Western Samos, Greece

* Hollóko, Hungary

* Biei, Japan

* Capulálpam de Méndez, Mexico

* Godinje, Montenegro

* Gornja Lastva, Montenegro

* Oukaimeden, Morocco

* Gasura, Rwanda

* Gostilje, Serbia

* Gorenja Vas, Slovenia

* Cantavieja, Spain

* Bo Suak, Thailand

* Ruboni, Uganda

The support that these villages will be receiving from UNWTO and partners "will help improve elements of the areas identified as gaps in the evaluation process."

The 44 villages that got the Best Tourism Villages label, on the other hand, will form a network where each of them will exchange best practices.

"The Best Tourism Village program is actually a platform for learning for sustainability and resiliency," added Costas.

He said with the recognition from UNWTO, they expect a lot of people going to Bojo for learning experience.

"They will go there to really observe how the communities work with other partners, how to run a community-based eco-tourism venture," he said.

Costas hopes that the Best Tourism Villages award will help address two major challenges to the sustainability of tourism development in Barangay Bojo: loss of tourism livelihood through land development and intergenerational sustainability.

He said Bojo River is part of the Tañon Strait Marine Protected Seascape, a national protected area, and "village tourism happens in the river and marine ecosystems, while the infrastructure, as allowed by law, are located in the buffer zone."

"The surrounding lands, or the lands beside the river are actually alienable and disposable, meaning that anytime soon, if nothing will be done about it, it's probably going to change the landscape," he said.

For intergenerational gap, he said tourism has brought newfound prosperity to the community that parents are now sending their kids to schools, "meaning they leave the village, go to college, get their degrees, get the jobs and leave."

"So what happens to the village, what happens to the present generation who is actually the stewards of the river?" he asked.

This migration, he said in their application rationale, "will eventually create a gap in developing new stewards and leaders standing on the shoulders of the older generation."

To address these issues, Costas proposed a partnership with land owners in terms of running the business venture of Bojo River, as well as the establishment of a leadership academy in the village.

He said the academy does not have to be physical, but can be a virtual school where the 44 communities can learn from and mentor each other.

"The award is not really a signal nga murag everything ended. Murag it's just even the beginning, of even bigger responsibility to educate other destinations. Murag ang imong responsibility mas mudako ba, kay you want to infect, inspire other destinations to also do the same," Costas added.

Bojo's Best Tourism Village award was received last December 2 during the UNWTO 24th General Assembly in Madrid, Spain by Philippine Ambassador and permanent representative to the UNWTO Philippe Lhuillier and DOT Undersecretary Verna Buensuceso.