THE municipality of Oslob will go ahead with its new tour rates for whale shark watching on Sunday, April 15.

Filipino visitors will be paying the same P300 fee but foreigners will have to pay a higher amount of P500.

Oslob Mayor Ronald Guaren said new color-coded tickets have already been printed in green, yellow and blue to match the association of boatmen assigned for the guests.

The mayor met with local fishermen on Tuesday to explain the Oslob Municipal Council’s decision to adjust rates, mainly to charge more for snorkeling and scuba diving as a way of discouraging activities that expose the whale sharks to more harmful human behavior like touching or riding the slow-moving sea creature.

Guaren calmed down emerging opposition by assuring that rates for whale shark watching, their main activity, would remain the same, but he was referring to local visitors only.

Asked how Oslob would apply the new scheme, which will distinguish between Filipino and non-Filipino visitors, Guaren said town representatives have to depend on “honesty.”

“We will not be very strict with the collection. We will just rely on the honesty of the visitors,” Guaren told Cebu Daily News. He said the collecting staff would observe the “appearance” and speech of the guests.

“If they know how to speak Tagalog or Cebuano, then they are definitely from here,” he said.

Last week, some Cebu tour operators expressed concern that a two-tier rate would “leave a bad taste” and cause confusion among tourists, especially if a family or group has some members who are Filipino and others who are of a different nationality or have surnames that sound foreign. And how would they classify a balikbayan?

Mayor Guaren said he would sit down with the staff that collects the fees to explain the changes. He assured that payment procedure for whale shark watching would still be the same. Visitors have to a “briefing center” to be advised of the do’s and don’ts, and pay their fees then be guided to non-motorized bancas that will take them out to see, less than 100 meters from the shore, to see whale sharks swimming close to the boats. Guaren said that the local and foreign tourists can line up in the same booth but they will be issued different tickets depending on the activity they want to do, like snorkeling, diving or basic “whale shark watching” on board a boat. The mayor said that if a guest insists on being counted as local tourist, but appears otherwise, they may insist on checking his or her passport.

The Oslob Municipal Council, in a resolution, amended a January ordinance regulating whale shark tourism.

The new scheme sets P500 as the “regular” fee for whale shark watching but offers a “discount” for “local visitors” at P300.

Snorkeling which used to cost P320 per person will now cost P500 for a local visitor and P1,000 for a non-Filipino.

Scuba diving has been raised from P350 to P600 for locals and P1,500 for foreigners.

Mayor Guaren said Oslob municipality would have to depend on accredited diving shops. He said that if they falsely declare a foreign guests as a local tourist, they won’t be allowed to operate in barangay Tan-awan. In the public forum last Tuesday, fisherolk and boatmen voiced out their worry that higher rates would reduce the number of visitors.

Guaren explained the amended ordinance, where only foreigners would pay a higher whale watching fee while the local tourists would still pay the P300 rate for whale watching.Guaren said that it would be “too much” to increase the local rates so the council agreed to just hike the rate for foreign guests. The fisher folks at the gathering eventually agreed to the new scheme.