Editorial: Safety first in tourism

HILAN (haunted)” is a coastal roadside spot in Legaspi, Alegria where old-timers say the Japanese Imperial Army dumped the bodies of residents tortured and executed for assisting the guerrillas fighting the invaders.

Known also for the craft of weaving “bubo (bamboo fish traps),” said to be a legacy of the Japanese forces occupying the town during World War II, Legaspi’s less savory history is resurrected whenever another vehicular accident occurs near the spot where an ancient tree marks grisly wartime memories.

The barangay in the southwestern town of Alegria in Cebu was recently in the news again when a van crashed into a tree growing near the barangay hall of Legaspi on Jan. 20, according to a SunStar Cebu report by Kevin A. Lagunda.

Six of the passengers were declared dead on arrival at a hospital in Alegria; another died in a Malabuyoc hospital.  Three other companions were rushed to a hospital in Cebu City.

Local lore may have an unconventional explanation for this tragedy. However, quoting eyewitnesses, authorities say the van was speeding.

The driver of the van has been charged. He denied he used illegal drugs, but admitted he lacked sleep after driving for four days. He had slept for an hour before he was hired to drive the van.

The van was taking the passengers, Filipinos with US citizenship returning for a medical mission in Camiguin, from whale shark-watching in Oslob to Kawasan Falls when the accident took place in Legaspi.

The tragedy casts a pall on the observance of the feast of the Sto. Niño, which has drawn foreign and domestic tourists, including returning Cebuanos responding to the Balik Cebu Program.

As early as November last year, balikbayans, mostly coming from the US, communicated their intent to return for the Sinulog to the Balik Cebu Program, now on its 15th year of promoting the fiesta, SunStar Cebu’s Elias O. Baquero reported last Jan. 18.

The tragedy that took away the lives of the seven balikbayan health workers underscores the importance of regulating the safety and well-being of tourists.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry emphasized the five A’s of boosting the tourism industry: arrival, access, accommodations, attractions, and activities.

To provide tourists’ access to local attractions and activities, the private sector has a stake in providing transport services, budget airlines, ferries, and chartered planes. 

However, government agencies and LGUs should work closely with the private sector to ensure public safety and security.

One of the best practices in promoting the tourism industry is Puerto Princesa’s practice of accrediting vans and drivers transporting tourists from the Puerto Princesa International Airport to their accommodations. 

Last May 2017, the Department of Tourism (DOT) conducted the third seminar on “Tourist Drivers as Tourism Frontliners.” At least 400 van drivers were trained on road safety and the responsibilities of tourist drivers and guides. At the end of the seminar, the DOT distributed accreditation stickers, which enable vans to operate within the airport premises.

During peak seasons, such as the Sinulog, regulating tourism frontliners, such as drivers and guides, is crucial.

The south of Cebu has benefited from a spike in volume of visitors drawn to whale-shark watching, canyoneering, trekking, waterfalls swimming, and other ecotourism-related activities.

Yet, the deaths of three tourists forced Gov. Hilario Davide III to suspend canyoneering activities in Badian and Algeria from June to August 2016. 

The Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) conducted a risk and safety assessment of canyoneering, and coordinated with the Badian and Alegria LGUs to form and strictly implement guidelines regulating canyoneering. 

As the Jan. 20 Alegria multiple tragedies illustrate, safety and security should lie at the core of all tourism activities, not just for extreme types like canyoneering.
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