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Editorial

Handbook for humanity

/ 05:14 AM August 27, 2017

Amid the turmoil in the world, the United Nations has issued a reminder that the planet still holds great beauty — and that we have a duty to enjoy that beauty responsibly.

The reminder, a handbook titled “Travel. Enjoy. Respect,” contains “tips for a responsible traveller” that were developed by the World Committee on Tourism Ethics and based on the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism adopted by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Released worldwide in various languages, it is addressed to governments, tourism-oriented corporations, destination-handling institutions, local communities and, of course, tourists.

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Many of the tips are commonsensical, but bear repetition. “Honor your hosts and our common heritage.” “Protect our planet.” “Support the local economy.” “Be an informed traveller.” “Be a respectful traveller.” These are broken down to more specific individual tips that travellers can follow one by one.

The Philippines attracts millions of foreign visitors yearly, and tourism revenues make up more than 10 percent of its GDP. But the Pearl of the Orient, which identifies itself so prominently by the hospitality of its people and its diverse destinations, also bears scars from tourism.

Thus, the tips in the UN handbook are applicable not only to the foreigners who visit the country but also (and no less important) the domestic tourists many of whom are hardly versed in the ways of the conscientious visitor and who lead in the pollution and even destruction of the environment.

The country’s most popular tourist destination, Boracay, is a prime example of how tourism helps and hurts. Last May saw as many as 60,000 tourists visiting Boracay for a long weekend, leaving its White Beach less than pristine.

In a Facebook post, island resident and business owner PJ Arañador said: “You are all shameful. Are you being taught in school to throw trash in the sea? You organize parties but you leave garbage. You all make Boracay the largest garbage [dump].” Another business owner, Elena Brugger, noted the cigarette butts all over the beach, something specifically forbidden by a municipal ordinance.

What is happening on a large scale in Boracay is happening in different scales on other beaches nationwide, as though these were magnificent but dispensable sun-and-sea playgrounds.

This same problem has been seen on the mountains. In 2016, the Philippines’ tallest and most popular trekking destination, Mount Apo, was declared off limits because of a forest fire attributed to visiting climbers. The blaze started on the Kapatagan trail in Davao del Sur and quickly raced into North Cotabato. Officials said it was most likely started by climbers who had set up a campfire because of the low temperature.

The fire led to the indefinite closure of the mountain to climbers. That closure was lifted last April, but the local government has imposed higher climbing fees, a limit of 50 climbers per trail per day, and a strict no-camping policy. Surely all these would have been avoided had the visitors been mindful of their surroundings and responsible for their actions.

The overriding lesson in this age is that travellers, whether visiting their own country or enjoying trips overseas, have to be educated in responsible tourism: that varying cultures and breathtaking sights are worthy of the deepest respect, and that the natives don’t owe them for coming.

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Always worth remembering is that simple but instructive adage: “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.”

UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai echoes this thought in his statement: “Whenever you travel, wherever you travel, remember to respect nature, respect culture, and respect your host. You can be the change you want to see in the world. You can be an ambassador for a better future.”

It’s incumbent on all travellers, local and foreign, to play their part in saving the world for others and for future generations. According to the UN handbook, the Tourism Code is not legally binding and is actually a voluntary mechanism. It’s clear, however, that being a responsible tourist is an act of voluntary fellowship in which all people in all places should engage.

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TAGS: Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, Inquirer editorial, responsible travel, United Nations, World Committee on Tourism Ethics, World Tourism Organization
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