Data shows ecotourism helps build local economies



By Alexander Villafania

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, PALAWAN – Thanks to a larger number of Filipinos travelling locally, ecotourism in the Philippines is slowly gaining ground. Many resorts and hotels currently offer ecotourism tours.

Ecotourism is still generally described as a subset of tourism. However, it becomes more specific when the destinations are national ecological preserves.

The website Ecotourism Philippines defines it as “a form of sustainable tourism within a natural and cultural heritage area where community participation, protection, and management of natural resources… are fostered for the enrichment of host communities and satisfaction of visitors.” As such, communities where ecotourism destinations are located become part of the industry itself.

Palawan, Pangasinan, Sorsogon and Bohol have a variety of locations that are either marine or forest preserves. Palawan, in particular, is home to sea turtles and corals. Sorsogon is popular for its whale sharks,

Pangasinan’s Hundred Islands is also a major marine preserve and Bohol has a huge forest range in Danao. In all of these areas, community members are usually involved in promoting their locales and often provide services to tourists.

According to this story by the Philippine Star, the Department of Tourism said the ecotourism industry in the Philippines has been posting double-digit growth since 2009. Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said Europeans are among the biggest markets for ecotourism in the Philippines.

He also lauds the local government unit (or LGU) officials and their constituents for having worked to promote their own tourism destinations. LGUs are given freedom to identify what places in their localities can be considered eco-tourism destinations.

It is this community involvement that has strengthened the ecotourism business in the Philippines. Many destinations were once poverty stricken and there were not enough commercial industries to employ people.

In 1999, the DOT issued via Executive Order 111 that created the National Ecotourism Committees that would get community members to promote and provide services for tourism. They would also get a share of the business both directly and indirectly via ancillary services.

The results are increase in tourists and improved services without heavy investments in infrastructure. Just this May, the DOT reported that there has been a five percent increase in tourism with over 3.6 million people, both local and foreign, having visited tourism spots, many of which are ecotourism destinations.

Of course there is always the challenge of how much of the profits from ecotourism are being shared. A paper by Mary Ann Chen Ng from the Eubios Ethics Institute indicated that some groups get a larger chunk of the profits. She questions if ecotourism in itself helps people in these communities.

Perhaps ecotourism does help solve some of the problems of community members but although there could be a better system that would help them.

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