MAKING AN IMPACT Eco-Tourism in Allah Valley (Philippines)
Natural disasters threaten to destroy paradise
Allah Valley in the southern Philippines, is home to spectacular natural resources including lakes, waterfalls, caves, hot springs,
and bird sanctuaries. Lake Sebu is a perfect example – it’s a mystical lake that has served as a source of livelihood for local indigenous peoples (IP)
and food for birds in the surrounding rainforests for thousands of years.
Natural disasters threaten to destroy paradise
Allah Valley in the southern Philippines, is home to spectacular natural resources including lakes, waterfalls, caves, hot springs, and bird sanctuaries.
Lake Sebu is a perfect example – it’s a mystical lake that has served as a source of livelihood for local indigenous peoples (IP) and food for birds in the surrounding
rainforests for thousands of years. The Bara Bird Sanctuary, located along a river in the city of Tacurong, is home to massive flocks of black herons, white egrets,
and tens of thousands of migrant birds from Siberia, Japan, and Korea. Lake Holon, called the “Portal to Heaven” by local IPs, is a sacred lake located on the top of a
mountain at the end of breath-taking virgin rainforest trail.
In 1991 a typhoon caused Lake Holon to discharge 14,000,000 gallons of water downstream, causing widespread devastation. The typhoon threatened the future of these natural
wonders and the people who live there. Since the region is primarily agricultural, the economic future of the province and the livelihoods of the community were in jeopardy.
The Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance (AVLDA) is an alliance of local governments, formed following the 1991 typhoon to help the affected communities recover from the
natural disaster. In addition to helping with the rebuilding and recovery process, ALVDA recognized the need to embrace sustainable development in Allah Valley. In the past,
the area’s economy came largely from unsustainable activities such as charcoal making from local wood, illegal logging, as well as slash and burn agriculture, which exacerbated
the threat of flashfloods.
A strategy for environmental and cultural tourism
AVLDA partnered with the Local Governance Support Program for Local Economic Development (LGSP-LED), to develop the Allah Valley Eco-cultural Tourism Project.
Eco-cultural tourism was a way to attract travellers to see Allah Valley’s beautiful natural amenities, while simultaneously providing a viable economic development
alternative for local communities and sustaining and protecting the area’s natural resources.
There were three main components of the project:
Two Tourism Circuits were developed to enhance existing local attractions, activities, and tourism services.
Training was provided to help improve the skills of tourism frontliners and service providers, as well as ecoguides and indigenous artisan entrepreneurs along the
route. Investment promotion for tourism infrastructure and tourist facilities was also conducted in the priority areas along the circuit.
With the support of LGSP-LED, AVLDA developed a marketing strategy and brand for Allah Valley. The strategy included the development of a brand, marketing materials,
a website and social media pages, tours for media and tour operators, regional and national trade fairs and an investment forum.
LED initiatives and training were also facilitated by LGSP-LED in order to create supportive policy environment and ensure strong institutional support for tourism
enterprises in Allah Valley.
A key focus of the Eco-cultural Tourism Project was to mainstream climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction into the development of the tourism circuit.
This addressed the need to make municipalities more ‘business-friendly’, while also raising awareness and skills to mitigate the risk of potential natural disasters.
For example, AVLDA worked closely with the Federal Mines and Geosciences Bureau to develop geo-hazard maps for each municipality to use in the planning and development of tourist
sites as well as other developments.
Private sector participation and engagement was another key principle. The project engaged the private sector from the beginning which helped municipalities to view the tourism
circuits from the perspective of tourists, entrepreneurs, and investors.
Changed lives and perspectives
The project has had significant impacts on the local economy. Almost 20 new business registrants in the tourism sector were recorded over the course of the project and annual visitor arrivals increased by more than 60% from 2012 to 2013.
From 2012 to March 2014, there was an estimated 4.7 million CAD in private tourism investments. This was largely due to opening of 2 new hotels in Koronadal and 3 in Tacurong cities as well as improvements and expansions of existing hotels in Koronadal and Lake Sebu.
But the impact of the project went far beyond increases in tourism and business activity. The strategy helped local workers to earn sustainable incomes while at the same time increasing their awareness about environmental-protection and disaster risk reduction.
Before participating in the training, I considered making beadwork as a hobby. If people bought my products, i was happy.
However, I realized that my hobby can become a good business and can provide money for my family.
AVLDA’s Youth Entrepreneurship Development Program trained 70 young artisans on Leadership Development, Product Development, and Enterprise Development. Selected trainees also went on a learning mission to two Filipino cities in order to learn about supply and market linkages for arts and crafts.
Opportunities and Challenges for Investment
With the support of several partners, AVLDA organized the first South Mindanao Tourism Investment Conference in 2013. The conference brought more than 300 business and government attendees (including the consulgenerals of Malaysia and Indonesia) to Koronadal City to learn about the potential for tourism and investment in Allah Valley.
From 2012 to 2014, there was a surge in both public and private investments, with the majority coming from the public sector. Public investments, which mostly went to improving the road network along the tourism circuit, grew from $2.2 million CAD in 2011 to nearly $14.5 million CAD in 2013.
Despite these success, many of the municipalities struggled to attract private investors, especially foreign direct investors. This suggests that although there is a promising future for tourism in Allah Valley, more work is needed to fully develop the circuit and attract large scale private investment.
Sustaining Eco-tourism Through Sustainability
AVLDA has already made plans to continue the programs and sustain the early success from the initiatives started under the Eco-Cultural Tourism Development Project. The provincial government of South Cotabato has also enforced a substantial clean-up of Lake Sebu and there is an on-going effort to remove debris and illegal fishcages from the lake.
ALVDA still has work to do to achieve its objective of creating 300 new jobs. But now that the leadership and the people of Allah Valley are learning about opportunities to make a sustainable living, while celebrating and preserving the area’s natural beauty, the future of Allah Valley looks extremely promising.
Program Name: Eco-Cultural Tourism Development Project
Location: Allah Valley – Provinces of Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato Date: 2011-2014
Population: 700,000 Area: 4,250.37 km²
Key Program Components:
Tourism Circuit Development to enhance the attractions, activities, and tourism services in the priority destination areas.
Training for tourism workers and small businesses.
Tourism Investment Conference to promote tourism and investment opportunities.
Development of a destination marketing campaign, including the creation of a brand, marketing materials and website, tours for media and tour operators.
Creating local business-friendly policies.
Increased tourism arrivals – from approximately 70,850 in 2011 to 115,000 in 2013 (60%)
About 350 new jobs, about half of those for women.
19 new enterprises registered for business licences from 2011 to 2013.
8 Investment Projects were developed and promoted.