“Guimaras is to mangoes,” assessed tourism consulting firm Asia Pacific Projects Inc. (APPI) that administered a survey to departing visitors at the Iloilo Airport and Seaport. 

“Around three out of 10 visitors to Iloilo associate the island of Guimaras with mangoes and beach resorts. Almost 75 percent of the respondents were not first-time visitors to the Metro Iloilo-Guimaras (MIG) area,” it added. 

As a shopping destination, shopping for various types of mango products and souvenir items should be pushed by tourism stakeholders.

Aside from mangoes, Guimaras has been boosting cashew nuts which is also abundant in the island, as a flourishing business.

“These products should be upgraded in terms of quality, consistent supply and packaging,” the APPI study suggested.

Tourism stakeholders should propose projects under the tourism strategy plan which will focus on developing new products and improve existing ones, thereby raising their quality.

“By expanding the markets for these products, local communities can directly benefit from tourism spending.”

An interesting suggestion which came out of Tourism Appreciation Workshop conducted by APPI is to come out with a “Proudly made in Iloilo/Guimaras” sticker that will denote quality standards.

“If this sticker is tacked on to all products made in the region, this will be another way to promote shopping as one of the main tourism activities when visiting MIG.” 

Tourism front-liners including the Iloilo Convention and Visitors Bureau, Iloilo Producers Association, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Tourism and Guimaras should work together to disseminate information to potential visitors about what is available for sale and to list down all shopping outlets that tourists should visit while they are in the region.

Guimaras should also make their products available in Iloilo City for visitors who could not find time to cross to the island. 

“Dining in local restaurants and sightseeing were the most popular activities among the visitors. Generally, the foreigners said they were satisfied with their visit in MIG area, with 95 percent adding they wish to go back soon.” the study said.

APPI reported that more than 80 percent of the respondents were domestic travelers, 14 percent said they were on a holiday trip to MIG area, and 20 percent of the respondents were foreigners.

APPI conducted the survey as part of the initiative to prepare the Metro Iloilo-Guimaras Integrated Tourism Strategy Action Plan (MIG-01) sponsored by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid) under the Local Governance Development Programme (LGDP).

Upbeat on tourism, infra dev’t

The island province of Guimaras has been catching up with its tourism and infrastructure development.

The provincial government under Gov. Felipe Hilan Nava has identified investment areas for prospective investors. These growth areas are focused on agri-eco-tourism to include farm, beach, mountain/inland, and island resorts; campsites; and natural, zoological and botanical parks.

Another attraction is devoted to historico-cultural heritage projects for heritage tourism on landmarks and religious tourism on retreat houses and pilgrimage shrines.

The establishment of tourism estates is expected to rise on golf courses, target ranges and adventure parks.

Investors are also encouraged to venture on support facilities and services including transportation, communication, restaurants, hotels, apartelles, hostels and pension houses.

The manufacturing industry has bright spots on metal crafts; furniture/furnishings, garments, gifts, toys and house wares; shell crafts/handicrafts; lime processing; assembly plants, fashion accessories and cement production.

Agri-business is targeted to have a boost on post-harvest facilities (fish landing, feed mill, cold storage, vapor heat treatment and irradiation technology); high-value commercial crop production/seed production; food processing (fruit, meat, fish); aquaculture and seaweed production/processing; poultry and livestock production; and water processing.

The services sector is urged to develop the media/advertising; information technology; financial; engineering/architectural; training and sports; ship building; repair and development; indigenous power resources development; human resource (construction, security, business, domestic and households); funeral homes/memorial parks, infrastructure (construction of ports); transportation (domestic airport); research and educational facilities; spa/massage parlors/physical fitness facilities; pawnshops; and medical/physical therapy clinics.

Real estate developers should invest on shopping malls, retirement villages, and convention facilities.

‘Guimaras like Boracay’

Guimaras has been considered to have the same potentials of world famous island resort of Boracay in Aklan.

This is the assessment of Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG-6) regional director Evelyn Trompeta even as she said that Western Visayas has been positioned as tourism haven in the country.

“Guimaras is the best competitor of Boracay. While Iloilo is an economic hub, the proximity of Guimaras has very best potentials for tourism,” Trompeta stressed.

What makes Guimaras the next tourism destination?

Three things to consider: peace and order situation, local governance and agri-tourism master plan, said Trompeta.

“Guimaras’ peace and order program has been awarded among the best implemented. The province has also a politically healthy environment – there is a positively healthy relation between the executive and legislative – the opposition is very negligible, there’s no political bickering. And the agri-tourism master plan is in place,” she pointed out.

Trompeta added the island’s tourism plan has been drafted with the support of Department of Tourism (DOT) and Canadian Urban Institute (CUI).

“Guimaras is the only province in the region that has come up with its provincial economic and development office which focuses more on tourism development. Heritage tourism is also one of the best potentials,” she affirmed.

The DILG chief said they will conduct an alliance building to create a team for Guimaras not only in terms of politics but for five municipalities to complement for the development.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-6) has planned to establish at least five eco-tourism sites in the island.

They have coordinated with Western Visayas Caving Association and National Museum to assess the potentials of caves and lay down the resources management.

Guimaras tourism industry has been assessed to be more than just its beaches. It has also its own eco-and-agri-tourism sites, adventure parks, caving tours, mangoes and more scenic attractions.

Guimaras has been emerging as the next tourism destination in Region 6 as this recognition was evident in the Western Visayas Tourism Assembly.

The province reaped several citations including three special awards, best barangay tourism council, best tourism-oriented LGU, best tourism officers, and best emerging destination.

‘Village tourism booming’

The Barangay Dolores Tourism Council (BDTC) in Nueva Valencia was cited for managing the Guisi Community-Based Heritage Tourism Project designed to develop and promote the natural, agricultural, religious, historical and cultural heritage of the village.

BDTC is undertaking two complementary programs serving and entertaining clienteles from excursion and barangay tourism.

Excursion tourism promotes day trips from other parts of the region while barangay tourism caters to international guests who would want to experience rural life.

The council has designed programs for the promotion and development of the heritage tourism project and implements these with the aim to contribute to poverty reduction goals of the local government units.

The multi-awarded Experience Guisi, a village-based economic enterprise that features multi-stakeholder and participatory approaches intends to introduce community-managed initiatives to preserve and promote natural, cultural, agricultural and religious heritage of the province.

It also received the Urban Leadership Award from CUI in 2005.

Guisi is a unique experience where visitors can frolic in the village’s white-sand beach, hike in its mountain trails, time-travel under a Spanish-era lighthouse, enjoy local food and get inspired with cultural presentations.

‘Tourism-oriented province’

Recognized as the best tourism-oriented LGU for two straight years, Guimaras is a pioneer in public-private partnership in tourism development.

In 2004, the province received the Galing Pook Awards for its innovative and collaborative program between the government and private sector that aims to facilitate the planning of development of tourism industry in a participatory approach.

The program features cultural preservation, environmental protection and economic empowerment as fundamentals of tourism development.

Guimaras has embarked in a program known as Community-Based Tourism Awareness and Appreciation Campaign, an advocacy campaign that seeks to disseminate and raise awareness and appreciation of people on tourism as an economic service industry.

The initiative is being assisted by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) through CUI.

At the helm of the successful Guimaras tourism program is provincial tourism officer Angeles Gabinete who twice bagged the best tourism officer award.

Gabinete is credited for having conceptualized and prepared the Guimaras Tourism Development Plan which presents the long-term goal, immediate benefits, intended results and inputs needed for tourism growth.

She also pioneered the award-winning Public-Private Partnership in Guimaras Tourism Development as a tool for helping address poverty.

Believing in the power of organization, Gabinete has helped organized tourism-related groups like the Tour Guides Guild of Guimaras, Association of Caterers of Guimaras, and Guimaras Resorts Association, among others.

‘Holy Island’

The Barangay Hoskyn Tourism Council in Jordan town manages during Good Friday a huge tourism event which has been celebrated even before the council was created.

The event is a yearly pilgrimage to the Balaan Bukid, the “mecca” of Roman Catholics during the Holy Week that attracts thousands of devotees since 1954.

It is a difficult task yet the council survives an annual rigid test, mainly because of organization, policies and community support.

On top of this, the council has also initiated several tourism programs, one of them the Layag Festival held every first week of May to celebrate the significance of sailboat with side events including mini-paraw regatta race and pinta de layag art competition.

The council is also promoting the preservation of cultural practices like boat-making and production of tultul or salt slabs.

It has likewise helped organized the Layag Theater Group among the youth and spearheads the village’s participation in the province main celebration, the annual Manggahan Festival.

This modified story first appeared in The Guardian Iloilo Dec. 14, 2007