On and Expat November 20-26 issue.
in the Philippines: A Sustainable Alternative?
By: Jacqueline Ong
to the Philippines' pristine beaches for a taste of the tanning
sun, white sand and cool blue waters are the usual tourism
highlights of tourism in the country. However, it doesn't
take long before manifestations of environmental degradation
and cultural alienation become evident in areas heavily promoted
and visited by tourists to the Philippines. This has prompted
the Department of Tourism (DOT) to banner ecotourism, promoting
travel with as much passion, yet without putting the country's
rich heritage at risk.
from the words ecology and tourism, means "responsible
travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and
improves the well-being of local people." This government
initiative, which started in 1991 as a 20-year plan, aims
to put a more socially aware face to an aggressive drive to
promote tourism as a developmental force in this country.
year, total tourism receipts, meaning the expenditures of
2.3 million tourists, amounted to US$1.99 billion, according
to DOT Office of Tourism Development Planning operation officer
Alain Quesea. From a 2.6% contrbution to the country's GDP
in 2004, the DOT targets an increase to 2.7% this year from
an expected 2.6 million tourists. As of this September, DOT
had already recorded 1.9 million tourists entering the country,
mostly going to multiple destinations.
Deemed an alternative, ecotourism guarantees empowerment among
the local communities throughout the country. The traditional
setup of "making an area siutable for tourism" and
"teaching the residents how to adapt" to such a
change is reversed. Instead, constituents of the biologically
diverse natural areas remain in their usual way of living,
manning their sites, and directing activities that remain
environmentally and culturally sustainable. Tourists take
on the observer status, granting due respect to the existing
setup of the local community-its people, environment, and
cultural significance. Through the ecotourism, the socioeconomic
benefits are directed to the community level, and the tourists
benefit as well, with the opportunity to experience nature's
unadulterated grandeur and contribute to the preservation
of a country's legacy.
the government's noble pursuits, however, come abuses from
various sectors. The term ecotourism has been misused to mean
"anything green". Some claim they have ecotourist
sites when they really don't. "Thy're riding on the banwagon,"
said Carlos Libosada, professor of the University of the Philippines
Asian Institute of Tourism. Mike Lu, president of the Wild
Bird Club of the Philippines, revealed in a forum entitled
"Philippine Ecotourism: Getting There or Going Nowhere?"
at the Kamayan Restaurant last November 9, that some of the
so-called ecotourism sites in the Philippines are actually
disruptive to the natural balance of the ecological system.
He cited instances where suppsedly ecotourist sites bring
in new animals that jeopardize the endemic creatures, introduce
water sports that damage the natural habitat of the animals,
put in walkways at the expense of uprooting forestry, and
encourage the direct contact with the tourists with wild animals,
which tames their orientation. " They have very good
intentions, " says Lu, " but if they don't consult
the proper people, they destroy [the area]."
we doing enough?"
Apart from that, the Philippines also faces new threats to
its tourism potential. Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, president of
the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), remarked that the Philippines
needs to address the issues of competitiveness and sustainability.
The country has already jumpstarted on the ecotourism trail,
he noted, but "the question are, 'Are we doing enough?',
'How do we keep it going?"
ecotourism to be competitive, a viable business sense is needed.
Tan saw the need for more results-oriented marketing scheme
that would cater to internet transactions in bookings and
also proposed less intervention from the government and more
private sector involvement. This, he said, would solve the
problem of continuity. "The private sector is designed
for sustainability, while government is short-term [meaning,
based on the official's or administration's tenure]."
he added. Representative Edgardo Chatto of Bohol's first district
similarly endorsed public-private cooperation. The government
will provide the pollicy framework and the national, regional,
and local visin, but running the tourism industry shoul be
a private sector-led business, he said.
the other hand, Allan Canizal, director of the DOT Office
of Tourism Development Planning, emphasized the need for cooperation
and collaboration not just between the government and the
private sector but more importantly, with local communities.
Getting the cooperation of the community is vital and "changing
the mindset [of the people toward ecotourism developments
in their area] will not be very difficult if the objective
is transparent," he added. He stressed that poverty reduction
will be a result of ecotourism fostering entrepreneurship
among the locals.
of the 20-Year Plan
Ask if ecotourism's entrepreneurial thrust might threaten
the customary livelihood of the locals, as they would have
to adapt to tourist's needs, Canizal was quick to reply that
ecotourism doesn't replace but supplements. We don't uproot
them from their traditional jobs, but when they are not farming,
they could serve as tourist guides or boatmen as an added
means of earning," he added. Tan similarly stated that
local communities should not be totally dependent on ecotourism
as their sole means of income, since unpredictable events
like seasonal changes might adversely affect the tourism flow.
"Ecotourism is just a bonus on the existing community,"
year 2011 will mark the end of the government's 20-year plan.
By that time, the Philippines is expected to be a highly competitive
ecotourist destination. Five years before the target, how
is the country farig? Libosada maintained that the Philippines
has a very high potential, but how that would materialize
into the country's gain depends on the steps all the stakehoderstake
today. It is a challenge for the local community as much as
it is to the private sector and government to promote awareness
and acceptance of ecotourism.
Philippines has 32 key ecotourist sites. Among those that
DOT has most heavily promoted as viable and successful destinations
are Donsol in Sorsogon, the Banaue Rice Terraces in Mountain
Province, Mount Pinatubo in Pampanga, Pamilacan in Bohol,
and Olango Island in Cebu. at present, four others are priority
projects: the Hundred Islands in Pangasinan, the Mayon Volcano
in Bicol, Rajah Sikatuna in Bohol, and Lake Sebu in Mindanao.
is a project of all the Filipinos for the Philippines. Collaboration
and cooperation on all levels of community and governance
is deemed necessary to realize the benefits of ecotourism
and stave off its possible threats.