Local officials from the Municipality of Oslob, Cebu, met with their counterparts from Donsol, Sorosgon, in a study tour to Donsol, which is already world-famous for its whale shark (butanding) interaction activity. The study tour was hosted by the Department of Tourism (DOT) last May 18-19, 2012. Led by DOT Region 7 Director Rowena Lu Y. Montecillo and Oslob Mayor Ronald Guaren, the group was warmly received by local officials headed by Albay Governor Joey Salceda, DOT Region 5 Director Maria O. Ravanilla, and Donsol Tourism Officer Ms. Nenita Pedragosa.
“One of the primary objectives of the tour is to observe and learn from Donsol’s best practices in the management of its whale shark watching tour, human-cetacean interaction, visitor supervision, as well as enterprise development, community involvement, and partnership approaches,” DOT Region 7 Director Montecillo said.
During the workshop, Donsol’s Butanding Interaction Officers (BIO) shared their experiences and expert advice on responsible whale shark interaction. Both parties exchanged ideas and views on the differences of their respective whale shark watching tours and on how they can further improve the experience of visitors.
“The success of the whale shark watching tour in Donsol is due to the cooperation and collaboration between the local government, community, the DOT, and private sector. I have high hopes that the successful and sustainable practices will be replicated in Oslob,” Director Ravanilla said.
The Municipality of Oslob, a town located near the Southern tip of Cebu, became popular in 2011 when whale sharks have been spotted near the coast of Barangay Tan-awan feeding off from the fishermen. Since then, tourists have been flocking to the once-quiet municipality to see the gentle giants up-close. The local government has also been convening with several groups to regulate and manage the emerging tourism destination, as well as preserve these sea creatures and empower the locals in the community.
The DOT previously made the initial steps in equipping the local community with basic knowledge in handling whale shark tours. It has already sponsored past seminars for boatmen on the following topics: basic frontline services, lifeguard techniques, effective communication, and interaction protocols.
“Oslob stands to significantly learn from this study tour not only in terms of gaining insights to upgrade the standards of operation, but also in seeing the need for additional projects such as souvenir making, recreation activities, and other basic infrastructure services to support this ecotourism-based livelihood,” Montecillo added.
Aside from the training on whale shark interaction, the group from Cebu likewise enjoyed the different tour packages offered in Donsol and Legazpi City, such as the Firefly Watching Tour and the ATV Ride to the Mayon Volcano Lava Front.
“The greatest successes we have in tourism are always hinged on active local government participation and initiative. Only when tourism becomes the people’s business can we succeed in maximizing and spreading its benefits. We depend highly on our local community partners to implement sustainable tourism practices, as we work towards our common goals of economic growth and job creation in the country,” Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said.