17 Jul 2012
CEBU could possibly be the only Philippine province with existing, active tie-ups with other countries in the promotion of tourism as an integral part of its overall economic development program.
This is what Cebu’s first-ever woman governor, Gwen Garcia, conceived, implemented and institutionalized -- a systematic plan of action in tourism promotion that she calls “Suroy-Suroy Sugbo.” The project enlists practically all sectors of the community and connects directly to Cebu’s source of tourists in their home countries.
So successful have Cebu’s foreign tourism initiatives been that Cebu is now a prime mover of the East Asia Tourism Forum (EATOF), an inter-regional grouping of provinces in several countries in East Asia and Europe that are actively involved in the tourism trade. Cebu has operational sisterhood agreements with many of these provinces.
Governor Gwen’s outstanding international tourism accomplishments led to Gwen’s election as leader of the EATOF during its 10th meeting in September 2009. The organization was then composed of 12 countries – Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Russia.
In 2010, Cebu also forged a sisterhood agreement with the City of Ljubljana in Slovenia. The following year, Cebu was chosen by the Autonomous Republic of Crimea as the province in Asia with which to sign a sisterhood agreement. The reason? Because the city wanted to learn from Cebu and adopted the methods and techniques that Cebu used in its successful tourism promotion program.
The agreement was signed by Governor Gwen and Pavel Burlakov, Crimea’s First Vice Minister of the Council of Ministers.
Crimea, an autonomous republic under the jurisdiction of Ukraine, had invited the Cebu governor to attend the Black Sea Economic Forum, where Crimea’s head of interregional cooperation and international organization, Vladimir Degtyarev, praised Cebu’s dynamic program in tourism development as well as its promotion of Philippine cultural heritage.
Two years after Gwen’s election as head of EATOF, Cebu played host to more than 500 foreign delegates who participated in the organization’s 12th meeting in September 2011.
Earlier this year, the Regional Minister of the Tyrol province in Austria, Dr. Beate Palfrader, visited Cebu and also expressed interest in forging sisterhood ties with its Philippine counterpart. Tyrol has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Philippine government that includes a student exchange program on tourism education between Tyrolean and Filipino students, particularly those from Cebu.
Palfrader says that the sisterhood agreement provides the province of Tyrol an opportunity to promote tourism and cultural exchanges with a country that has a unique blend of Asian and western influences.
“Suroy-Suroy Sugbo” has made a positive impact on the social and economic development of the province, to the extent that other Local Government Units (LGUs) want a nationwide program implemented based on the Cebu program.
This was the consensus of the three-day National General Assembly of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines held at the Cebu International Convention Center in December last year. Mayor Reynaldo Navarro of Laak, Compostela Valley, the league’s external vice president for operations, suggested adopting the strategies used by Cebu in promoting local tourism.
Suroy-Suroy Sugbo is on its seventh year. Governor Gwen launched it in 2005 as a comprehensive countryside tourism promotion program. It has since shaken up what used to be slumbering communities located off-the-beaten track to realize that with just a little effort they, too, could become tourist destinations.
Among other activities, the program involves undertaking an annual tourism caravan with the participation of local and foreign tourists to heretofore unknown tourist spots in the province. It has also encourages local folks to engage in the production of tourist souvenir items from indigenous materials.
This year, the caravan was highlighted by tours in such idyllic countryside spots like the Boho River Cruise in Aloguinsan, the festival showdowns in Toledo City and Tuburan, a visit to the fabulous seaside destination of Maravilla Beach Resort in Tabuelan, a trip to the huge shipyard of Tsuneishi Heavy Industries in Balamban and a refreshing respite to the fishing ponds of Asturias and Pinamungajan, all local spots familiar to native Sugboanons.
Recently, Governor Gwen and businessman Prudencio Gesta, president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), signed a Memorandum of Agreement called “Turismo Sugbo” for the implementation of a two-year project that would further expand the program. The project will assist tourism stakeholders by evaluating potentials and initiatives of 12 Cebu LGUs – Dalaguete, Liloan, Pilar, Tudela, Carcar City, Toledo City, Alcoy, Ronda, Sogod, Dumanjug, Moalboal and Aloguinsan – that have confirmed their interest.
Schools have also pledged their support, including the University of Cebu, University of San Jose-Recoletos, Southwestern University, Cebu Normal University, Asian College of Technology, Benedicto College and the University of Southern Philippines Foundation. The schools have included the program in their respective curriculum for students taking up tourism-related courses.
Governor Gwen is quick to emphasize that tourism is only one aspect of her social and economic development plan for Cebu, which covers all human needs, including agriculture and food production, the enhancement of the environment, peace and order, heritage and culture, health, education business and entrepreneurship, computerization, information and communication and setting up the appropriate infrastructure for the supply of water and power and the construction of roads and bridges.
No doubt it was her boundless dynamism that prompted the Rotary Club of Cebu Fuente to name Governor Gwen as Woman of the Year and consequently declare her as a distinguished honorary member.
Governor Gwen was also conferred the prestigious “Grand Tourism” during the CCCI’s Tourism Congress held June 28 at the Cebu International Convention Center.
The reader may well ask why a Governor who could successfully run an LGU as difficult and complicated as the Province of Cebu is standing for election in the Senate, a legislative body prone to debates, instead of going for an executive post.
We have had outstanding senators who came from LGUs, such as Senators Serging Osmena and Nene Pimentel who were outstanding mayors before they were outstanding Senators.
Governor Gwen is the first woman who has outstanding accomplishments in an LGU who can be expected to do as well in the Senate.