SOCCSKSARGEN (or SOX) is blessed with natural wonders that could strike awe to locals and international tourists. The famous seven falls of Lake Sebu and Lake Holon of Tboli, South Cotabato are some of the eco-tourism sites that we could be proud of. Many other eco-tourism sites are still waiting to be discovered and developed to add in the tourism destinations of the region. Furthermore, the region also has different tribes that live harmoniously with each other. In recent years, many cultural communities have been put into spotlight because of their unique features as tourism destination. But as I paused and contemplated all of these, I asked myself − Are these all need to be opened to public for the sake of tourism?
As I travel around the region, I see several potential tourism sites that could help boost economic activity of SOX. You can see breath-taking waterfalls, beautiful lakes, forested mountains, crystal clear rivers, world class caves and karsts, and among others. Plus the amazing cultures of different cultural communities in the region. These sites are just ordinary attractions for the locals because they see it often and most of them could not appreciate its worth in terms of tourism potential and cultural heritage. But when a traveler or an outdoor enthusiast discovers it and shared his/her experience through social media, that’s the time they would realize its value. But in some cases, sharing your travel experience through the internet can have unintended consequences.
In Region 12, one of the infamous cases that still linger in our recent memory is the case of Sanchez Peak in General Santos City. It is the highest spot of the city which rise about 800 feet above sea level. For many tourists who have experienced it, it offers 360 degrees view that surrounds General Santos. It is a perfect place for camping and outdoor activities. Sanchez Peak is located within the boundaries of Barangay Conel and Olympog.
When a mountaineer discovered it and shared its beauty to the world, many became curious and started to visit the place. Many campers shared their experiences through posting it on Facebook and other social networking sites.
But without proper planning and consultation, the place became overcrowded with tourists who only mind their selfies and not their garbage. When a photo of scattered garbage went viral online, the site was temporarily closed to public. LGU GenSan intervened and cleaned the mess. It was publicized to let the public know that they “responded immediately” to the problem. Photos and videos of cleaning the pile of garbage spread easily on social media as proof that they were sincere in solving it.
However, most of the concerned tourists who visited Sanchez Peak still continue to complain about the improper waste management and the conflict among the landowners of the area. As they would relate, LGU GenSan especially the GenSan Tourism Office still has no concrete plans about it. If they have plans, they are not sure if it is implemented well. Sanchez Peak is one of the bad cases that still need our attention and action.
The development of tourism has two effects – the good and the bad. The former increases income opportunities for the locals which result to high standard of living and it also entail infrastructure improvement. While the latter talks about the destruction of the environment and disruption of the simple living of the locals. As what Philipp Dukatz wrote on his blog – “it is a big paradox.” He said:
“It is human nature to be fascinated by the exotic, the unknown and by other ways of life. And this seems particularly true in these modern times where we often look for alternatives to our fast paced lives. But within this yearning for authenticity, simplicity and untouched beauty lies a big paradox. By travelling to these places we leave permanent marks and we, deliberately or not, contribute to steering them into the direction of where we have tried to escape from. So how can we solve this paradox then?”
As a local traveler in the region, I am somehow guilty on promoting potential and existing tourism sites in SOX. That is why I am cautious of sharing my travel experiences on social media. As one of the social media influencers in the region, I am careful of promoting places or cultural communities especially if it is fragile for outsiders. If the place is not for the general public, it would be best to keep it as it is. Some places are best kept in its natural order and not for public voyeur. But we cannot force other tourists not to post their travels on social media. As Philipp Dukatz asked:
“The question is how we should deal with this dilemma as travelers. Should we just keep writing and talking about our experiences because if not us, someone else will do it? Or should we rather keep our experiences to ourselves in order to preserve these places a little bit longer? The surfer community has been doing this for a long time, keeping quiet about local secret spots and only letting people in if they had proven themselves. Is this something the intrepid traveler of today should also adopt?”
As a traveler or tourist, we should be considerate about our own actions in visiting tourism sites. As he suggested:
“What we all should do however is to travel with open eyes and an open mind. Often traveling is not about the place but about the people. It shouldn’t be just about the next travel kick but about learning and growing. If we start to keep this in my mind, the first step in the right direction is taken I think.”
I know many of the local government units have passed policies to regulate the influx of tourists in their places. One of the best examples is the case of the Municipality of Tboli. But as tourists, we should also do our part to help not only the local economy of a certain community but also we should help protect their environment as well as their culture.
Tracey Santiago of ICOMOS Philippines said it best:
“Think also of how the community feels when more than a thousand tourists are disrupting their peaceful daily lives. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s not all about the money that tourists bring in to their community but mostly it’s about having a peaceful sleep, clean water to drink, food for the family, safety of their environment, and clear roads to walk on.”
Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
Reflections about tourism: The big paradox by Philipp Dukatz
Too Many Tourists Spoil the View by WWF-Philippines Social Media Ambassador Gideon Lasco