To be a tourist in the Philippines is marketed as an exciting experience, where one is constantly surrounded by beach parties and town fiestas amid its 7,107 islands – so much so that the Department of Tourism’s tagline is known as “It’s More Fun In The Philippines”. But beyond the scenery, sunbathing, and the suckling pigs lies the country’s ecotourism sector – an emerging form of travel other major destinations such as Costa Rica, Norway, and New Zealand have become known for.
Yet in recent news, the images seem to be disappointing, as Boracay, a popular beach destination, had been closed down by the government for six months. This comes as an effort to rehabilitate its deteriorating environment, scarred by the violations of hotels, nightclubs, and other business establishments that dot the island. In turn, one can hope to see a breakthrough as the government reshapes the island’s ecological and economic practices, going beyond its reputation as a tourism cash cow into a true beach paradise.
Despite this, the Philippines seems naturally poised to be a major ecotourism haven: being one of the world’s 18 mega bio-diverse countries (according to the Convention on Biological Diversity), possessing between 70-80% of the world’s plant and animal species, 15.8 million hectares of tropical forests, and a geography that comprises everything from perfectly shaped volcanoes to emerald-green islands. Moreover, new species are also being discovered in the country every year.
Nationally, there have been measures to transform tourism’s ecological footprint. For instance, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has launched an ecotourism tracking tool (ETT) – a 62-question assessment that aims to promote and monitor sustainability in resorts, natural parks, villages, and other tourism sites across the country.
Other parts of the Philippines have already established themselves as emerging hubs for ecotourism as well, implementing commendable policies that change the way Filipinos see tourism. From Batanes, to Palawan, and beyond, take a look at how the Philippines is practicing ecotourism today.
One need not head out of Manila to appreciate the country’s sprawling greenery. La Mesa Eco Park, a private 31.2 hectare ecological nature reserve is a popular attraction, envisioned as a place that both preserves and enhances the natural environment. Here, tourists can witness about 93 bird species residing within the reserve, as well as admire its bioclimatic architecture built based on its existing surroundings.
In addition, La Mesa Eco Park also earns about 40 million pesos annually, according to the country’s former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez.
Palawan: Sustained Sustainability
Palawan has stood out as a pioneer in the Philippines, known for transforming its previously degraded surroundings into one of the world’s top ecotourism destinations. In particular, its capital Puerto Princesa City has spearheaded the change, effectively implementing cleanliness drives and waste management policies that benefit business owners and locals alike.
In turn, the island has managed to balance its economic and ecological footprint, where one can find a coexistence between luxury hotels and natural habitats.
The Philippines’ northernmost province, Batanes is a world in its own, where entire houses are made out of limestone and coral, and rolling green hills cascade down to a rugged coastline. In helping retain this idyllic environment, the government has also declared Batanes a cultural heritage and ecotourism zone, preventing unplanned tourism sights from sprouting up its many islands. Additionally, costs in the province are above average compared to other areas of the country – naturally limiting the amount of visiting tourists.
With these ecotourism practices at hand, can the industry truly take off in the Philippines? Slowly but surely, it can be a transformative source of income, given that its 7,107 islands have a lot to offer, along with a culture that has proven to be service-oriented. In time, it can certainly be another crucial engine to economic growth – should the government, businesses, and citizens continue to cooperate on a larger scale.