• Sustainable tourism: A reality check



    It is summer once again and the radiating heat and the metropolitan traffic just tempt us to fly to island-paradise destinations —north, south, east or west, any which way we will hit a beach. With the upcoming Holy Week, domestic tourism will surely keep our highways, airports, and seaports bustling with activities.

    Working with my colleague John Paolo Rivera of the Asian Institute of Management, I developed a sustainable tourism framework for the Philippines and have the following propositions: (1) there is weak interaction between the authorities and tourism businesses; (2) tourism activities are mostly privately initiated; (3) community participation is critical in sustaining tourism in the country; (4) the quality of tourists in the Philippines has a particular appreciation and interest in the country. We culled this from Bjork’s Ecotourism model but supposed that the players (authorities, tourists, businesses, and local community) in Philippine tourism are not balanced and influence the sector in varying degrees. These are concepts I am trying to test based on actual experience and ongoing issues surrounding tourism activities in the Philippines.

    Conceptually, the authorities have a weak relationship with local communities. To a certain extent, authorities particularly focus on business and environmental taxation, infrastructure development, certification and quality monitoring, and environmental regulations.

    On their own communities enact community-based tourism, promote heritage, food and ecotourism. Since the natural resources are bestowed upon the communities, they earn a living from ecotourism without the consideration for maximum human footprints capacity that may harm the environment.

    Tourism businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities provide restaurants, hotels, transportation, and tour operations. The allied business services play an equally important role like telecommunications, banking and foreign currency exchange, shopping and entertainment, and other personal services. There is a strong interaction between the community and tourism businesses in the form of labor supply and livelihood for the community.

    The demand and supply of service interaction between tourism businesses and tourists are influenced by media and the internet. Potential tourists depend on information on the internet, booking sites and reviews. In the new media age, social networking sites also play a significant role in attracting tourists to a particular destination.

    Incidentally, tourists may have an immersion on local culture and heritage. It may not happen on the first visit. However, a memorable experience may entice them to come back and experience more of the country’s cultural heritage such as food, religion, culture and history. Immersion on local culture can also promote volunteerism.

    Meanwhile, there are some issues surrounding sustainable tourism in the Philippines.

    Maximum capacity
    First, there must be a manageable maximum capacity load for tourist destinations. Boracay Foundation, Inc. said we are not yet ready for 7 million tourists this year. The island could only handle so much. That makes me worry about Coron and El Nido, which are regarded as paradise islands, where the lagoons have pristine waters. I wonder whether the Secret Lagoon can still be kept a secret, given the influx of tourists.

    Wild or domesticated
    Second, swimming with whale sharks has become an issue. Is it right to keep them like pets by feeding them instead of leaving them wild in their natural habitat? Whale sharks gained popularity in Donsol, Sorsogon but they found their way to Oslob where fishermen started feeding them to keep them coming back, which promoted tourism in the town. Well, actually they stayed. There are guidelines before swimming with whale sharks (e.g. no sunblock allowed, no touching or playing with them). Should we continue feeding them and make them stay? If we leave them in the wild, they might get slaughtered anyway in another country that does not have environmental laws that protect them.

    Chemical contamination and pollution
    Third, on an island-hopping adventure last 2015, from Oslob, I went to Apo Island in Dumaguete and to my surprise, foreign tourists splattered themselves with gallons of sunblock and they swam immediately with the turtles. Locals told me that the turtles actually just stay there because humans don’t harm them and they have gotten used to the attention. I wonder how to generalize policies on non-use of chemicals like sunblock to preserve the water quality and to protect the welfare of the animals.

    In sustainability literature, we do not doubt nature’s capacity to heal itself. What we are really afraid of is our own extinction. Within this context, to sustain tourism in the country, we should consider a manageable maximum capacity, standardization of policies for the welfare of animals, and the preservation of water quality so future generations can continue heading to the beach and enjoy what nature has bestowed upon us.

    Dr. Michael Angelo A. Cortez is a CPA, a conference organizer and a journal editor. He is visiting professor and researcher at De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines. He is an associate professor at the Graduate School of Management, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan. You may email him at cortezm@apu.ac.jp. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.


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    1. Thank you for this update on sustainable tourism challenges and opportunities in the Philippines, Michael. Having attended ITB Berlin last week – world’s largest travel convention – it was obvious that sustainability is slowly but steadily becoming a core part of destination strategies.

      ‘Green’ used to be linked to marketing and PR, but is now rightly moving backstage, as focus for development and management.

      The Sustainability Leaders portal offers advice and stories from those destinations around the world that are leading the way. Are there any best case examples of sustainable tourism change makers in the Philippines?

    2. To focus on tourism scenic spot is a poor and terrible services due to a lack of accommodation and cooperation of authority. Whereas walking on the street for sight seeing the road block for the sake of asking a tips additional to expenses.