The management of the Underground River is not keen on a proposal to put up a cable car facility and similar attractions for tourists visiting the Underground River as being suggested by the city government’s planning consultant Palafox Associates.
PPUR Park Superintendent Elizabeth Maclang said while they will consider the reasons raised by Palafox behind the plan, such project will need to have the concurrence of the Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) and that “it will go through the eye of the needle.”
The consulting group, which presented its studies to the city government recently, said such types of attractions are needed to convince tourists to stay longer in the City instead of leaving for other destinations such as El Nido.
“The [proposed] cable car will pass through the eye of a needle,” Maclang said in a press conference on Thursday, October 12.
Carlos Libosada Jr., an eco-tourism expert working for Palafox Associates, said it would address the carrying capacity concern that limits the number of visitors to the cave and drives away local visitors to other destinations.
“If the carrying capacity is too small, it will surely stunt your [tourist arrival] growth [rate], unless you will assure the people that when they go there, they can see what they want to see,” he said during the presentation of the tourism plan’s final draft at City Hall two weeks ago.
According to Libosada, the daily 1,200-visitor cap, in one way or another, contributed to the drop in the city’s tourist arrival growth rate that settled at 6% in 2013 and 2014, and plummeted to 4.6% in 2016, the lowest since 2011.
Libosada said the installation of cable car system had been tried successfully in other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, notably in Global Geopark in Malaysia.
“Cable car system can be super compelling and the people don’t have to go inside the cave – it equals the quality of experience,” he said.
However, Maclang said she doubts if such project would get the green light from the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a scientific body that declared the park as World Heritage Site.
“Even if it’s not located inside the core zone, I don’t know if the UNESCO will allow it,” she said. “Because, even the [presence of a] simple zip line had been questioned by [another scientific body], the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).”
The park superintendent said the presence of a cable car system in other UNESCO World Heritage Sites doesn’t mean it’s also applicable in PPUR, which pride itself for “aesthetic value, extraordinary beauty” and “unique biodiversity.”
To lessen the pressure to the underground river, she said the PPUR Management Office has been supporting the establishment and management of community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) sites within the park.
“Insofar as the carrying capacity and the readiness of PPUR to the influx of tourists are concerned, we’ve been preparing for these through the development of community-based eco-tourism destinations since 2013,” she added.
The City Tourism Office (CTO) is projecting tourist arrivals to reach around two million, according to CTO’s Promotions and Marketing Division Chief Michie Meneses.
Currently, Maclang said tourists options to visit existing CBSTs, namely Jungle Trail, Sabang Falls, Isla Filomena Diving and Snorkeling Site, Hundred Caves, Daylight Hole Cave and Wonderground Cave. Three more CBSTs are expecting to open soon, she said.
Maclang said they will study the recommendations of their consulting firm.
“It’s still a proposal, subject to the approval of the Protected Area Management Board,” she said.