Editorial: Sustain community-based tourism

Editorial: Sustain community-based tourism
Editorial Cartoon by John Montecillo

Holy Week this year has emphasized the opportunities for small out-of-the-way places in local and community-based tourism.

Last Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, many Roman Catholic Filipino families undertook the Visita Iglesia, a Lenten ritual that has devotees visiting seven churches.

Traditionally, pilgrims prayed the Stations of the Cross at seven churches as a form of penance.

From a practice that focused on churches located in close proximity in urban centers, the Visita Iglesia has evolved into an excursion involving larger groups, such as religious organizations coordinated by a parish or several parishes or students and teachers affiliated with a university.

These contemporary visits to churches merge the spiritual with the secular, with the modern-day visitor perhaps more interested to take digital photos or selfies against a backdrop of invaluable intricate church art than to offer a prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

How can local tourism make the most of opportunities to promote local culture and sustain the local economy, while minimizing the abrasions and irritations that may arise when residents encounter outsiders?

Community participation is crucial for local tourism. Local governments must take the lead in mobilizing the community to promote and protect local heritage.

Visitors, particularly groups that travel by bus or vehicles-for-hire, always look for these necessities: safe and clearly designated parking space, clean and functional public toilets, and places for food and souvenirs.

The plaza concept used by the Spanish colonial authorities to organize the Poblacion or town center to ensure that church and government were entities at the center of town life remains relevant in contemporary times.

Starting from the plaza, visitors can explore a town by radiating outwards, to the church, “mercado (market),” port (if it is near the coast; on the south of Cebu, there are still whole or remnants of the “bantayan sa hari (watchtowers)” constructed by the church as first line of defense from Moro raids in the Spanish era), town hall, and other man-made and natural attractions.

While first-world countries may have 24/7 local tourism offices and free publications to provide information to visitors, Filipinos themselves can become excellent at giving a personalized introduction into community life.

A week before Lent, SunStar Cebu visited churches in southeast Cebu. Churches in Sibonga, Dalaguete, Argao, Carcar, Boljoon, and Oslob were open for walk-in visitors.

Despite the observation of the Lenten practice of covering religious statues in purple shrouds, visitors were still able to pray or observe church art in solitude.

Some church workers were cleaning and tidying. Considering that several items of church property are valuable and priceless, the absence of any security staff causes some unease.

Also missed were local historians or volunteers who could have provided information or commentary that narrated local history, particularly as preserved by tangible and intangible aspects of culture.

Boljoon has a church museum that was not open last March 19. However, the church had a shop that served refreshments, locally made religious items, and a book on local history. A local resident and historian also highlighted aspects of local church history in his commentary to a group of visitors.

On March 21, the Oslob Church had arranged on the side of its interiors the different tableaus that were to take part in the Lenten procession. Even without a local guide, the tableaus were captivating and instructive for visitors drawn to know more about church history or faith.

Local and community-based tourism can enable stakeholders in Cebu to bring more engagement to promote faith, local history, and heritage.


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