G-Eco Tours Destinations; Palawan, Sarangani, Sorsogon, Romblon, and Guimaras

Since the launch of the Ugong Rock eco-tourism project in Palawan in 2008, ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation Inc. (ALKFI) has been carrying out efforts to lift people out of poverty through eco-tourism.

ALKFI chairman Gina Lopez in a press conference on Tuesday said that in line with this year’s 26th Philippine Travel Mart (PTM), the foundation has registered itself as an exhibitor under G-Eco Tours.

G-Eco Tours, a community-based tourism program, will be among the 250 other exhibitors present at the biggest travel trade exhibition in the promotion and marketing of domestic and inbound tourism, PTM.

Among the initial destinations being offered under G-Eco Tours are Palawan, Sarangani, Sorsogon, Romblon, and Guimaras.

Lopez stressed the importance of making investments in destinations with local government units (LGUs) that are pro-environment.

“I don’t go (for a destination) if the LGU is not pro-environment. If they are into mining what will you market? It necessitates a strong acting relationship with the LGU,” she said.

“My passion lies in getting the Philippines out of poverty and my conviction is that the way to do it is by nurturing the beauty that surrounds us — and doing it in such a way that benefits the community,” she added.

PHILTOA president and PTM chairman Cesar Cruz said that the association believes in a strong cooperation with the LGUs.

“As a matter of fact, for every destination that we try to develop we make sure that the LGU is very much involved in tourism,” Cruz said.

Cruz said that the LGU must consider visitor safety, cleanliness, and governing policies that go along with sustainable tourism program.

He meanwhile echoed Lopez’s call for an LGU to be pro-environment.

“(The LGU will) have to make a choice—either go for tourism or go for mining. Might as well go for tourism,” he quipped.

The Ugong Rock eco-tourism project

In a slideshow, Lopez explained how communities at Barangay Tagabinet in Puerto Princesa, Palawan slowly lifted itself from poverty through the ALKFI’s Ugong Rock eco-tourism project.

Ugong Rock is an 18-million-year-old rock formation, which the community snubbed until ALKFI saw its potential to be developed into an eco-tourism destination. In 2008, ALKFI then began making investments to allow visitors to ply the rocks.

Lopez said that the community that lived around Ugong Rock consisted of individuals who did not even finish high school, others could neither read nor write.

”We invested Php 250,000 in ropes, spelunking equipment, and eventually another Php800,000 for a zipline,” Lopez said, as she narrated how Ugong Rock slowly became one of the prime eco-tourism spots in Puerto Princesa.

”We gave free media and it created a lot of traffic. Eventually so many people were going there,” she added.

She said that 60 percent of the income generated by what came to be Ugong Rock Adventures went to salaries, while 40 percent went to forced savings.

Eventually, the community was able to build a clinic, restaurant, sari-sari store and two more ziplines with their savings.

“Despite the fact that they have had minimal business experience or education, they have surpassed the business performance of many prime corporations today from an initial Php 133,000 in 2008 to Php 30 million in 2014,” Lopez said.

She finished her presentation stressing that the fact that the community was able to get out of poverty through care of the environment in the manner of inclusive growth is the way to go. (PNA)RMA/Azer N. Parrocha

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