The tourism plan drafted by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) shows how crucial private-sector participation is in selling the country to tourists.
After all, as a former tourism secretary said, while the government wields the conductor’s baton, the actual music makers are the tour operators, guides, resort owners and business traders who come face to face with our guests.
According to a report in this paper, the ambitious draft plan projects $150 billion worth of tourism income and $20 billion in investments and some 10 million jobs within 10 years.
But it is also grounded on realities, the most glaring being the six-month closure of Boracay, the Philippines’ premier tourist destination, because of environmental concerns.
The thrust, says PCCI director for tourism Samie Lim, is to promote 20 other destinations that would rival Boracay’s charm, showcase the country’s myriad attractions, and develop alternative sites should the unthinkable happen (climate change and natural disasters easily come to mind).
But while Lim stresses the need to develop programs and policies that focus on the “five As of tourism”—arrival, access, accommodations, attractions and activities—there is scant mention of protective measures to ensure that the 20 chosen sites won’t fall into the environmental pitfalls that did Boracay in.
Lim cites the need to invest in tourism infrastructure such as roads, ports, telecommunication facilities and sewerage systems, the lack of which, he adds, led to the degradation of Boracay’s natural beauty and resources.
But more than just infrastructure, the PCCI should consider how the expected influx of tourists and entrepreneurs catering to the guests’ needs would impact on a site’s carrying capacity, its water and food supply, and marine resources.
How will these concerns be addressed? How will environment officials require local government units to deny business permits, licenses and compliance certificates to offending resort owners, who may be some of the biggest taxpayers in the community?
To be sure, the draft plan has good things going for it, such as a suggestion that aside from offering sports and recreation activities, LGUs should try to develop historical, cultural and heritage sites, and build parks, museums and camping sites to enrich and enhance the tourist experience.
The PCCI could take note as well of the initiatives and insights developed by previous tourism secretaries.
Mina Gabor, for example, pushed farm tourism as a low-impact activity that also promotes love of nature and calls attention to sustainability. Tourist visits to farm areas for educational and recreational purposes also open opportunities for farmers and vegetable growers to join the tourism industry.
Gabor also encouraged resort owners and landscape artists to practice ecotourism through natural landscaping or gardening using native trees and vegetation indigenous to the locality, and therefore more acclimatized to the soil, water, air, and even pests in the area.
Naturally landscaped areas, she said, are easier to maintain and provide aesthetics all year round. They also prevent erosion, reduce air pollution and use less or no chemicals for landscape maintenance, while increasing regional biodiversity. And native plants provide historical and cultural interests by connecting residents and guests to the original landscapes of the area.
Alberto Lim, for another, pushed for water sports as a particular niche in tourism that the country can bank on, given its many surfing destinations. With more than 7,100 islands, there doesn’t seem to be a lack of alternatives to Boracay.
But such eco-friendly options must be paired with the assiduous training of local tour guides, with focus on specialized knowledge of their area’s history and culture.
Tour-guide skills must be sharpened, and accreditation must be strict in order to raise the standards of the trade and prevent mishaps (as what happened to a broadcaster’s son, whose surfing guide in Siargao turned out to be a moonlighting tricycle driver, and not a trained or accredited instructor).
With more millennials immersing themselves in adventure travel, the PCCI can also explore “voluntourism,” as well as medical, health and culinary tourism for their elders.
There is no lack of options for the enjoyment of tourists. But the PCCI must constantly look to Boracay as a template on the perils of overextending the welcome mat. Its foremost concern should always be how to balance economic growth with conservation of limited resources.
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