Subic: School for sustainable tourism and economic growth driver
Empowering the Filipino People
By Former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos
“People empowerment leads to a culture of excellence and results in global competitiveness. Excellence simply means being ‘better than the others.’” — FVR
MANILA, Philippines – Last 23 March, FVR launched the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) in Subic upon invitation of its President, Dr. Mina Gabor, former Tourism Secretary. Mina is one character who really knows how to get attention. Three weeks ago, when she came to our Ramos Peace and Development Foundation (RPDEV) in Makati to invite us for the inauguration of ISST (her latest “baby”), we had 83 things calendared on the chosen date. But, when she dropped the word “ECO-TOURISM,” right then and there, we cancelled everything and agreed to go.
UN World Tourism Organization ‘Musts’
Sustainable tourism is the acknowledged key to ensuring that there is an adequate supply of quality tourism products/services, while minimizing/ avoiding negative impacts of tourism on our natural environment and socio-cultural assets.
Many actions need to be done to prepare venues for the enjoyment of local and foreign tourists, the most essential listed by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) being:
Research: Engage leading industry experts and research institutions to generate cutting-edge knowledge on sustainable policies and tools.
Capacity Building: Conduct seminars and training camps using practical/hands-on methods.
Dissemination: Organize international conferences/forums for the exchange of “best practices.”
Networking: Collaborate with regional/national tourism administrations, UN agencies, and tourism operators regularly.
Pilot/Technical Applications: Carry out pilot projects to “test” new approaches and techniques.
Bringing stakeholders together
Late last year, the first Eco-Guiding Course ever done in the Philippines was held at ISST in partnership with the Department of Tourism.
Our country badly needs Eco-Guides since we have only a limited number of well-trained park rangers.
Taking care of at least 2,000 hectares of forest is the job of just one park ranger.
An Eco-Guide is someone who connects tourists with the natural and cultural values of the places visited. Guides do this by interpreting each venue’s special features, sharing their passion for nature with visitors, while minimizing people’s impact on the environment. They are responsible not only for the safety and enlightenment of tourists – but equally, for environmental protection.
Ecotour Guides are employed on cruise ships, walking/bus tours, wildlife adventures, and at historic sites.
Maximizing opportunities in sustainable tourism
RPDEV completed last year a series of “EcoMismo” seminars where partners in government and the private sector discussed doable solutions to challenges, both in policy and operations.
These sharing workshops were held in MetroManila, Cebu, Bohol, Sarangani, South Cotabato, GenSan, and CamSur.
With the theme “Ecotourism and Eco-Productivity: Best Practices and Challenges,” EcoMismo aimed to highlight the Philippines as among the top Asia-Pacific clusters in eco-tourism, and a pioneer in eco-productivity.
FVR also keynoted the 4th Philippine Real Estate Festival (PREF) Excellence Awards last 31 July when achievers in both real estate and tourism development were properly recognized, and where retirement/healthcare communities for foreigners were identified.
Only the best is good enough
Emphasized to EcoMismo and PREF audiences was the importance of EXCELLENCE as the yardstick for successful tourism packages.
During FVR’s Presidency (and up to now) among the recurring themes in his speeches, writings and interactions with other stakeholders is the virtue of striving for excellence in everything we do – if Filipinos are to become globally competitive as a nation.
Among our tourism crown jewels, it is in Subic Bay (being an international gateway) where tourism development, environmental conservation, and human behavior synergistically converge, and where nothing less than excellence works.
Many talk about increasing global opportunities in our time. As modern technology brings far-flung or untapped markets closer to our doorsteps, we may think the chances for global business automatically increase. Well, not really – because excellence in the global marketplace is the principal yardstick.
Best practices in eco-tourism
In 1991, the DoT – in collaboration with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UNWTO – prepared a Philippine Tourism Master Plan, the key objective of which was to position the Philippines as a world-class tourism destination under the guiding concept of sustainable development.
The Ramos Administration adopted that blueprint in 1992 as our basic roadmap, which includes real estate and property development. That official policy of sustainable tourism was further deepened and broadened thru regional seminars-workshops among stakeholders.
Sustainable tourism demands sustainable business practices. Clearly, the task of sustainable tourism has no universal solution -- it has only universal intent. Solutions are always location-specific. What works in Bohol may not work in Caramoan, CamSur. Practices in Cebu City may not apply in Lake Sebu.
The intent in sharing best practices is not the “who,” but the “why” and “how.” It is not to imitate but to learn from each other’s experiences -- and be inspired by them.
Nurturing a culture of excellence
In “winner” tourism models, decision-makers don’t settle for what is easy and convenient, or what is contrived or merely improvised. They study, analyze, plan and test until what they wish to achieve is clearly configured and understood in the minds of stakeholders who must help bring about the intended outcome.
Such is the “Culture of Excellence” that has enabled many nations, some smaller than ours, or whose natural resources are more limited than our own, to achieve much, much more than we have done – in terms of sustainable development and, consequently, their people’s quality of life.
If we persist in incorporating a “Culture of Excellence” in our lives, and encourage others in the community to aspire for nothing but the best, it is likely that the overall improvement of the Filipino future will become reality and not just an impossible dream.
Successful developers and operators forego small comforts and instant gratification because only the best is good enough. They keep track of what the competition does and are humble enough to accept where they fall short. They constantly search for ways to do better next time.
Tourism with a conscience
Many seem to forget that the Earth is humankind’s only home, and that millenniums of consistent abuse have pushed our Planet to the brink of no-return.
If our children – and all others after them – are to enjoy a decent future, we must change the way we treat food, water, air, vegetation, trees, energy, land, rivers and seas, and Earth’s other bounties.
We work hard every day so that our families may have three healthy meals and a roof over their heads. But, all that work will be for nothing if our Planet becomes uninhabitable.
Eco-tourism requires community participation in protecting and managing natural resources, traditional culture, and indigenous wisdom.
Eco-tourism fosters environmental ethics while promoting economic benefits for host communities and cultural enrichment for visitors.
Subic as growth engine
Subic Central News (February, 2011) reports: “The total exports in 2010 from Subic Freeport hit an all-time high with freight-on-board value of U$1.34 billion, surpassing the 2009 export value of U$1.08 billion by 24.6 percent year-on-year.”
The biggest exporters were led by Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp-Philippines, which exported a total of U$725.8 million in FOB value. In 2010, Hanjin completed two oil tankers – the M/T Leyla K and its twin M/T Eser K, for delivery to the Turkish Kaptanoglu Shipping Line.
The two vessels were the very first large tankers built in the Philippines, each valued at U$68 million, and measuring 114,000 deadweight tons, 241 meters long, 44 meters wide, and 21 meters deep.
Imports by Subic-registered firms also showed strong performance, jumping by 55.3 percent to $3.48 billion in 2010 from $2.24 billion in 2009.
Subic Administrator Armando Arreza (“Triple-A”) claims these export-import achievements indicate Subic’s economic power and increased competitiveness as a manufacturing/logistics hub.
Subic Bay is an ideal tourism gateway to what FVR in 1994 designated as the “Manila Bay Doughnut” in terms of economic growth and tourism potential that encompasses Bataan, Corregidor, Cavite, Tagaytay, Batangas, Quezon, Laguna, Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan, and Zambales.
Nobody describes Subic Bay better than Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim, citing it as a “perfect model of sustainable and quality tourism attractive to a diversity of foreign and local visitors.”
The fundamental principle
The tourism industry provides great opportunities for dealing with the persistent threat of climate change in a way that not only nurtures the environment, but boosts businesses as well.
In a word, eco-tourism is tourism with a conscience – because it advocates protection of natural resources and establishes mechanisms that are environmentally sustainable, economically rewarding, and socially equitable.
In his message at ISST (read by Secretary Bertie Lim), President Aquino III firmly committed: “Our policy is first and foremost anchored on the principle of sustainable tourism... that is environmentally and socio-culturally manageable.”
WE DON’T HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN “GROWTH” AND “GREEN.” THE PHILIPPINES CAN BE BOTH GREEN AND GROWING.
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