By: Jing Velos
Tourism changes people’s lives and so is the environment. The advent of urban people seeking remote and adventure destinations prompted a shift in the mind-set of the ecotourism industry players around the world to campaign for a much aggressive approach in safeguarding local tourism products and mitigating its socio-environmental impacts. Ensuring that tourism development safeguards are followed, the “GREEN TOURISM” movement becomes the battle cry of the industry. To date, more and more destinations are now prioritizing the aspect of engaging local communities and using eco-friendly structures in their strategies. Collaborations between private sector, Local Government Units (LGUs) and national line agencies such as the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are now both active and participative in ensuring local mechanism for productive tourism growth.
In General Santos City, the Tourism Division of CEMCDO is taking the lead in the realization of these green challenges. On the forefront of this development is the K’laja Karst Ecotourism Park (KKEP), a 9,147 hectares of mountainous karst landscape on the northeastern part of the city and the Bula Coral Reef- a 21 hectares of stable and disturb coral reefs. Both areas are of great tourism and environmental importance as buffer zone to food and water security as well as nature interpretation zone to tourists and constituents of the city.
On this issue, a brief insight on the dynamics of green tourism initiatives facilitated by CEMCDO will be discussed. The topic will include the series of activities that lead to the development of K’laja Karst Ecotourism Park and to the progressive effort to address the challenges that it is facing now. Tourism exploratory activities at KKEP started in late 1990s to early 2000s on the park’s potential tourism products. Initial effort to map the area was made through a 1950s topographic map from NAMRIA. Identified during this time were the K’laja Cave, Bunga Spring as campsite, Malakong Wall for rock climbing, Malakong Cave and Dalas Gorge. The resulting GPS coordinate was made to provide detailed location and distance on the map and was used to help plan out the development of the area. By 2003, the first city-wide promotional activity was conducted in partnership with local mountaineering groups through the conduct of Klaja Outdoor Festival.
The objective of the event is to introduce the potential tourism products to outdoor groups and thereafter to educate the participants on proper outdoor techniques and to engage in environmental advocacy campaign. Activities included in the event are actual and on-hand training in rock climbing, caving, tropical mountaineering, mountain biking and orienteering followed by a mini competition. For 3 years the festival persisted and produced young adventurer to become outdoorsmen with enhanced interest in the area. In 2006, the outdoor festival was upgraded and replaced by the famous Gensan Eco Karera (GEK), an adventure race that aggressively promotes adventure sport and was later granted national award as “Best Adventure Sport – City Category” by the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) and the DOT. It is during the GEK period that the place was given media exposure and thus gain public attention. At this time in 2010, during the 4th GEK, Sanchez Peak was introduced to the public. Corresponding camping activities jointly organized by the office and the local mountaineering clubs in the city composed of 13 organizations was organized as a promotion to the place. From that on, the park continuously gained visitors’ interest and ensued the increased in its tourism statistics year-by-year. By 2015, tourism gains recorded more than 22,000 visitors wherein in several instances; the gains resulted in crowded camping experiences exceeding the place’ carrying capacity. Unwanted development problems and pollution unknowingly appear that caught the community by surprise. As of this writing, the situation is now being addressed at the Sangguniang Panglungsod (SP) with the current public consultative hearing on the proposed SP Ordinance regulating adventure activities at the park and with the corresponding penalties thereof.
Prior to this unwanted tourism condition, the initial development plan for KKEP was drafted back in 2010 and resulted in the creation of the K’laja Karsts Ecotourism Development Project – Technical Working Group (KKEDP-TWG) with the issuance of EO No. 031 in August 2011. Tasked to implement the development of the area and ensure environmental and social safeguards, the TWG through CEMCDO facilitated the conduct of the K’laja Biodiversity Assessment as tool for planning the tourism zone of the park. The project was subsequently followed by the training and organizing of the K’laja Mountain Guide Association. By 2012, the Tourism Infrastructure and Economic Zone Authority (TIEZA) approved the 20.5M grant to KKEDP and downloaded the 1st tranche of the fund worth Php8 Million to the account of the city. Supporting this new development, CEMCDO, in partnership with the Climate Change Commission, hosted a seminar workshop on climate-resilient Eco-town Concept and presented to the stakeholders the proposed Bagongbuhay Eco-town Development Project. Later in 2015, CEMCDO initiated SP Resolution No. 277 which established KKEP as an ecotourism site in the city; it was approved thus strengthening its status for protection and conservation.
On the brighter side, the proposed project submitted by the Tourism Division to the Department of Energy (DOE), new Home Solar Power System has benefitted 38 families from Sitio Bagongbuhay while the recent completed Php8 Million concrete roads and drainage at Sitio Balakayo bring new business opportunities to the local community in the area. Likewise, the Php2 Million DILG-BUB funded hydraulic ram pump water system; a green technology in harnessing water to the community is due for implementation in June 2016. Equally in progress is facilitation of the remaining Php12.5Million TIEZA grant. Upon liquidation – targeted on the 3rd QTR of the year, it is expected that the construction of tourism visitors lounge, various overnight eco-lodges and trail maintenance works will commence early next year.
For 2016, CEMCDO submitted three site development concepts to various funding national agencies as well as presented this concept at Travel SOX in Manila for business matching facilitated by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and DOT. From this proposal, technical staff from DOE and TIEZA conducted site assessment to the proposed sites in Barangay Mabuhay, Bula and Ligaya in April and May. Recommendation by the staff includes the conduct of feasibility assessment on the wind status of the place for the proposed Php4 Million DOE – windmill power generation project. In the case of TIEZA, although positive on their assessment, the proposed Php50 Million development project in three eco-historical tourism areas, are now more stringent in their environmental requirements and compliance mechanism for granting the requested funds. This requirement includes updated zoning plan, stakeholder consultative report, detailed engineering design and site development plan, land title and certification, environmental assessment, and compliance to solid and liquid management discharge mechanism. This entire requirement must be submitted by the city of which, CEMCDO must take the lead in the facilitation of the documents.