The struggle for Sustainable Tourism

Last week was a busy one for those of us involved with the local Tourism industry. I saw myself having a meeting with Tourism secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo, and an Open Forum moderated by Tourism Undersecretary Ricky Alegre, where the recent brouhaha on DOT’s new ad campaign was explained to us, including the Nickelodeon Project in Palawan.  

But, for the greater part of last week, I was kept busy by the three-day UNWTO International Conference on Sustainable Tourism at the Marriott Hotel, with the Opening Ceremonies at Resorts World’s Newport Performing Arts Theater. I have to say that it was quite an achievement for our country to have attracted that many participants, in spite of the recent tragic incident at the venue’s premises, the ongoing Marawi crisis, and the perceived negative implications of Martial Law in Mindanao.

The colorful production number during the UNWTO International Conference showcased indigenous Filipino talent
There were a total of 973 attendees from 89 countries all over the world, and the foreign delegates were all raving about our hospitality, our food, our destinations, etc. The DoT put its best foot forward and showcased our country’s most important tourist attraction—our people! In fact, the crew of usherettes/ushers deployed to all sections of the conference venue was the best looking set I’ve seen, and each one was equipped with exemplary communication and PR skills. It certainly was an event that proudly highlighted why “It’s More Fun In The Philippines.”

But the topic that was being tackled during the conference was anything but fun. In fact, it was very serious business because Sustainable Tourism delves into three dimensions of the Industry—economic, social, and environmental—and this multidisciplinary concept still has to gain ground everywhere in the world. UNWTO defines Sustainable Tourism as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and the host communities.”

Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo welcomes delegates to the three-day conference
Taking a closer look at the phrase “Sustainable Tourism,” we right away see two opposing concepts. Considering all the aspects of Sustainability, what is of utmost importance is Tourism’s impact on the environment, how volumes of tourists could disturb the ecological balance of a particular destination. To prevent that from happening, the local community should limit the freedom of tourists to do anything they want in a particular place.  

On the other hand, the world sees Tourism mainly for its economic benefits. It is the fastest growing economic sector. Last year, 1.2 billion tourists traveled all over the world, and the industry’s financial gains represented 10 percent of the world’s GDP, meaning, one in 10 jobs globally. When we take into account the economic viability of this industry, all Tourism Master Planners aspire for volumes of tourists to rake in the desired revenues, and these volumes put the environment in danger because it is difficult to control large groups once they enjoy themselves in a particular place.  

Senate President Koko Pimentel says the government’s mantra of “Build, Build, Build” will benefit our Tourism industry
So when we put together Sustainability and Tourism, linking their environmental and economic aspects, there is no perfect fit. In fact, I am beginning to think that the phrase “Sustainable Tourism” is an oxymoron, and I am not alone in this belief. This is why UNWTO put together this conference to discuss at length how the world’s Tourism industry can make a go of Sustainability, to benefit the future generations, and still be able to achieve desired revenues.  

Right now, there still is no framework on how to measure any success on Sustainability development in a particular area, neither are data and statistics readily available to help experts construct such framework. Speakers from various countries have expressed the same sentiments, verbalizing their frustration over how to get started with this Herculean task to better understand and track the progress of sustainability in our respective countries.

UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai addressing the crowd composed of 973 delegates from 89 countries
But, as they say, even a million-mile journey starts with one simple step towards the chosen direction. The work that was done during this 3-day conference here in Manila will be used as a preliminary draft for Measuring Sustainable Tourism Framework, and will serve as a launch pad with which to further the global discussion on the subject, and appreciate the significant progress achieved to date through pilot studies and other relevant work at the international, national, and local levels.

I have to admit that, before this conference came about, I felt that those of us who desired Sustainable Tourism for our industry were like The Man From La Mancha and his Impossible Dream. But, what was accomplished during this Conference showed us the right direction in achieving such goal. It may be a long, arduous journey, a continuous struggle, but it is consoling enough to know that we have taken the first step towards reaching that goal, and are now on our way.

For feedback, I’m at [email protected]

Topics: Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo , Undersecretary Ricky Alegre , Department of Tourism , Nickelodeon Project , UNWTO International Conference on Sustainable Tourism
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