TWO years ago, local officials faced two challenges that surfaced from the canyoneering trek that has made Kanlaob River in Alegria and Badian a popular tourist destination.

The first issue involved safety. For two months in 2016, officials of Cebu Province suspended the activity while working with local leaders, tour operators, and guides to make the canyoneering adventure safer.

The second issue involved boundaries. More precisely, it involved questions from both towns on who was in a better position to operate or regulate canyoneering as a tourist attraction. In whose territory did the attraction’s sites and stops belong? Not always an easy question to settle, given that rivers and other gifts of nature often and freely cross political and geographic boundaries.

A report released by the Commission on Audit (COA) this year brought up a new challenge, that of managing wisely the funds generated by ecotourism activities. In 2017, COA said, Alegria town collected P13.2 million in fees from tourists who visited Kanlaob River. State auditors pointed out that while a barangay resolution set the tour package rates and how the collections would be divided, there was no municipal ordinance to authorize the collection itself.

Like Oslob, with its whale shark watching attraction, Alegria benefits from having something to offer tourists who want to venture beyond concrete jungles and commune with nature. The town makes much less than what Oslob does, in part because its canyoneering trek is more physically demanding than swimming with the whale sharks off Barangay Tan-awan. Yet while its ecotourism earnings may be modest, for now, Alegria’s potential is rich, which is why it needs to get its management and regulatory systems in place before the problems take root.

Among COA’s findings, for example, was that as of November 2017, Alegria’s Municipal Government relied on three job-order workers to collect fees from its ecotourism sites, including the canyoneering registration zone in Barangay Madridejos.

COA asked: Why entrust cash collections with job-order workers when the town is authorized to hire up to five revenue collection clerks? Alegria’s officials told state auditors that they had fixed the problem by asking casuals to handle the collections instead. COA disagreed and pointed out that short-term employees cannot be held accountable for something a regular employee should take responsibility for.

Keeping tourists safe and protecting what communities make from ecotourism aren’t the only challenges. There’s also the matter of safeguarding the sites that bring tourists in, which may include limiting each day’s crowd. What a rush Alegria’s officials and stakeholders would get, if they do all these right.