The Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) bared a nine-year National Ecotourism Strategy and Action Plan (NES) at the 5th World Ecotourism Conference (WEC) in Cebu City.
The launching of the NES was the highlight of the three-day international conference attended by about 400 representatives from government, civil society, private sector, and the academe from all over the world to discuss development and sustainability of industries linked to ecotourism.
DOT Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. likened the ecotourism strategy to falling in love. He said, “Make the people fall in love with the environment and they will treat that new love with utmost kindness. Truly when people don't care - that is when the environment is most at risk.”
The NES for 2013-2022 includes plans for sustainable management of destinations, education and awareness, involvement of local communities, development of tourism products, and improvement of tourism infrastructure, services, and human resource opportunities.
Secretary Jimenez said, “Ecotourism is a significant tool towards environmental conservation and protection, education and changing mind-set from over-development to rationale and orderly-development that respects nature and its cultural attributes.”
He added that it is a means towards distributing income and providing employment opportunities for many people.
“For a more inclusive and pro-poor ecotourism development, the NES seeks to link local communities with the economic opportunities along the tourism value chain – either being the tour operator, tour guide or involved in the management and operation of natural and protected areas with high ecotourism value,” Secretary Jimenez said.
Meanwhile, DENR Secretary Ramon Jesus Paje stressed the role of the Philippines in conservation efforts as the country is part of the Coral Triangle, a center for biodiversity also called “the Amazon of the Seas”.
Secretary Paje said the Philippines is home to 26-million hectares of coral reef, 2,000 species of fish, 500 species of stony coral – twelve of which are endemic, 16 species of seagrass, and 42 species of mangroves.
Under the theme “Marine and Coastal Ecotourism: Oceans of Uncertainties, Waves of Opportunities,” the 5th WEC discussed the impacts of ecotourism activities linked to the seas. The conference also covered the socio-economic aspects of the industry such as development of destinations, management of marine ecotourism spots, marketing, and the elimination of poverty through sustainability.
The event was co-organized by the Department of Tourism and DISCOVERYMICE of Malaysia and endorsed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Globe Telecom and Radisson Blu were sponsors.
Speakers in the conference included Gloria Steele of the US Agency for International Development, Ma. Lorenzo Tan of the Worldwide Fund for Nature Philippines, Gina Lopez of ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. Cambodian Minister of Tourism Tith Chanta, Burmese Deputy Minister of Hotels and Tourism Dr. Tin Shwe, Former Jamaican Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett were also part of the plenary sessions.
Marine resources, conservation, sustainability of coastal areas and communities, destination development, marine protected areas, and ecotourism marketing were some of the topics discussed at the conference.
The participants were toured around to the nearby island of Bohol to showcase examples of thriving marine ecotourism spots. An optional tour to Oslob, Cebu that included whale shark interaction was also available.