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BOATMEN, WORKERS WELCOME REOPENING OF CEBU TOURISM
By: Vanessa Almeda | Published Thursday, July 16, 2020
Boatmen in Oslob town and other workers in the different tourist sites in southern Cebu shared the difficulty of surviving the pandemic which put Cebu Province’s tourism operations, their livelihood, to a halt for more than three months. Now, with the province under MGCQ, the Capitol is set to revive the tourism industry not as a leisure activity, but as livelihood for Cebuanos. (Junjie Mendoza)

Mark Lawrence Rendon gave up his job some eight years ago in Cebu City and returned to his hometown in Oslob to become a boatman. 

Rendon, who once worked as a clerk at the Provincial Planning and Development Office, expressed his gratitude to his former boss, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, for leading the initiative in reopening the Province to tourism. 

"Arang-arang paman to pagsugod (sa quarantine) pero karon lisod na gyud kaayo," Rendon said.

Rendon is just one of the few white-collar workers who have chosen to enjoy the simple and laid-back life in the countryside over city life. He is the president of the Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden and Fishermen Association (TOSWFA) whose 217 members are mostly fishermen. They have engineers and other professionals as members.

According to Rendon, the organization had to launch relief operations for its members in order to help sustain the daily needs of its members. 

But for how long they will continue doing this is uncertain, so the Capitol's initiative is a timely intervention. 

TOSWFA members earn as much as P2,500 a day during the peak season of whaleshark watching from August to December while P600 to P800 a day during the lean season. 

Government has estimated that about P100 million in revenues, based on last year's income, in Oslob's famous whaleshark watching alone were lost due to the pandemic. 

Rendon said while they expect that their income may not be as much as before since foreign guests are still not allowed, they are hopeful to finally jumpstart their livelihood again. "Maayo gihapon bisan hinay-hinay lang sa. Salamat kaayo Gov. Gwen nga gisugdan ni," he said. 

BACK TO WORK

Grace Gabales and Melissa Tapales, who work as cooks for the past two decades at Quo Vadis Dive Resort and its sister companies in Moalboal, said they are very happy that they will soon open their gates to guests. 

"Nagpasalamat mi kay mabalik na gyud nga makatrabaho ang mga tawo," Cabales said. 

Tapales, for her part, is excited to work again on a regular basis since during the lockdown they only worked 3 days a week. 

Both shared their stories in the difficulty of surviving while tourism operations were halted for more than three months. 

They were able to survive through the help extended by the resort management such as rice and grocery items. Luckily as well, the management did not suspend their work as all of them work on a rotation basis. 

Gerry Duque, president of the Association of Kawasan Canyoneering Operators in Badian (AKCOB), said they will follow whatever policies and guidelines the Province will require from them. 

He said aside from the operators, habal-habal drivers, who are part of the supply chain of the canyoneering activity, also suffered greatly because of the pandemic. 

Tourism is one of Cebu's main economic driver in the past decades and one of the first to be hardest hit when the pandemic struck.  

Data from the Department of Tourism Central Visayas showed tourist arrivals in Cebu island in 2019 totaled 6,648,633. Of these, there were 3,373,979 foreign tourists while domestic tourists reached 3,274,664. 

Provincial Tourism Officer Marti Ybañez earlier said that the Province is taking a bold step in slowly reopening the industry. 

The governor, for her part, repeatedly emphasized during her two-day meetings in notable tourist destinations in Cebu like Badian, Alegria, Oslob and Moalboal towns, that tourism is not a leisure activity but livelihood for the Cebuanos. 

In relation to this, Garcia is expected to sign Executive Order 20-A on the regulations set for the revival of tourism activities like canyoneering, whaleshark watching, snorkeling, diving, and spelunking, among others. 

The reopening is expected to revive Cebu's economy and address the loss of hundreds of jobs especially in these tourist destinations. (Vanessa L. Almeda)