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Tourism: business thrives with Mayon

Mayon is both beauty and danger. Its breathtaking majestic backdrop can be astucious from afar, as it can agitate into a furious natural beauty spewing out red lava from its perfect cone and sending thousands away in panic.

A Mayon eruption triggers mass evacuation, the property is damaged, and thousands of families suffer. Conversely, the Chinese principle of Yin and Yang (the law of contradiction) says negative can turn positive. The pairs of equal opposites complement each other. In Albay, business thrives, with more tourists watching and “enjoying” the spectacle of the natural volcanic eruption. Displaced families can be productive with alternative livelihoods in their permanent settlements. Why not? Political will and a strategic plan to permanently resettle them can be game changers. Make the families partners and participants of progress.

I watched Manay Claring pick up her last bag from her home at barangay Fidel Surtida to bring to San Andres Elementary School, 5 km away in upland Sto. Domingo, Albay, I felt the pain and extreme sadness etched on her face. She and her family were leaving with a heavy heart, scared about the future or what may lie ahead with another round of evacuation since Mayon Volcano spewed out red lava quickly on June 11.

Like Rose and other members of the San Antonio Gravel and Sand Workers Association, Claring, 54, their president, laments that their life every three or five years has always been one of fleeing from the ambit of the volcano lahar and ashfall since childhood. Today, they are among the thousands of families turned evacuees anew - primarily enforced - and temporarily sheltered inside public school classrooms outside the PDZs or permanent danger zones.

“Sana may tirahan na kami na ligtas, hindi na palipat lipat lagi,” she sighed, almost on the verge of crying. A few days ago, Gov. Edcel Greco Lagman had allowed many to return to their homes “voluntarily” to “avoid straining resources.” Local executives initially opposed it.

Affected families are poor and vulnerable and receive pre-dispositioned relief packs, but resources can run out if the effusive eruption continues for several months. In a phone chat today, Regional Director Norman Laurio confirmed that “permanent settlement” for the families in danger zones is a priority of the government. But how soon that will be, he can only hope. On June 30, he committed DSWD 5 to join TBM and partners in the Social Enterprise Development (SED) project in Lidong, Sto. Domingo for a multi-stakeholder consultation.

Business thrives

Meanwhile, Lenard, a part-time rider near a hotel in downtown Legazpi said business with the Mayon eruption had seen a rise in tourists, with hotels often fully booked. Diego, one of the operators of the popular tourist all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) that tourists rent to drive around curvy, rocky paths, said he and the operators earn big for every hour of a rough ride. But the city mayor has called for suspending its operations due to “hazardous activity” like the recent increase of lava flow or rockfall. Still, businessmen are demanding its return.

Why should tourists still flock to Albay when low-income families like Manay Claring and Rose suffer away from their homes? It’s like asking why the billionaires who initiated and boarded the fatal Titan Submersible only to perish to watch the Titanic ship wreckage 13,000 feet underwater. Despite the danger, the thrill behind adventure persists.

At a mall in Legazpi City, I met a group of backpack-carrying foreign tourists enjoying their cups of brewed coffee and munching donuts at a cafe. After spending a night at the Mayon Skyline Hotel, they had just come from the Legazpi Highlands, 15 km from Mayon. They saw the volcanic activity clearly at the Farm Plate, especially at night. They were ecstatic to watch the erupting Mayon in viewing sites in Albay which the DoT announced as safe viewing sites.

Over DWNX’s Buhay Marinero program last Saturday, Elmer Abad, the popular broadcaster of DWNX-RMN and former CamSur KBP head, asked me if this could be a sign of insensitive tourism. Some enjoy the sight of danger, while many suffer from it. I can only say it depends on the purpose of the participant. Other kinds of tourism are in vogue: to experience adventure, danger, cultural and scientific learning, ecotourism, religious, medical, culinary, or sports reasons. What about humanitarian tourism, where travelers come to experience and provide alternative livelihood or a dash of hope for affected communities in danger?

The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) says tourism is a social, cultural, and economic phenomenon where people move “to other places outside their usual environment for personal, business or professional purposes.” They are called visitors, excursionists, tourists, and advocates involved in activities that generate unique experiences and satisfy travelers and hosts. When people travel, they spend and want to enjoy their experience. This time for a good cause!


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