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Cashing in on Nature’s generous bounty

Tourism has become a major income earner for communities and national governments, but more thoughtful planning is needed to ensure its benefits are shared by everyone.

At the recent Tourism Summit 2019, key tourism players and major stakeholders also stressed the importance of sustainability or the protection and conservation of natural assets and resources so the money-generating source does not dry up.

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Joey Concepcion, Go Negosyo founder, presidential adviser for entrepreneurship and chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Business Advisory Council (Asean-BAC) Philippines, set the tone for the daylong conference in his message in the summit souvenir program: “I believe tourism is the most inclusive sector as it extends not just to the services provided by airlines and travel agencies, but also includes the culinary industry, retail, transportation, logistics, medical and agriculture.”

Marie Venus Tan, chief operating officer of the Philippines’ Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), said, while more people were travelling, their interests were also changing.

She said more people were now looking for “immersive, experiential travels,” not just sight-seeing, so tourism programs should involve communities.

Dato’ Mohmed Razip Hasan, deputy director general of Malaysia’s Tourism Promotions Board, echoed Tan’s observation. “Tourists want to be part of the [community] as shown by the growing popularity of homestay and rural tourism,” he said.

The changing focus of travel and the need to protect the things that tourists wanted to see and experience made it important for tourism plans and programs to be multisectoral and multistakeholder, it was stressed by different speakers and resource persons.

Organized by the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (Go Negosyo) and Asean-BAC, with the Department of Tourism and TPB, the summit brought together tourism people from other Asean countries and Filipino local government officials, tourism industry people and representatives of micro, small and medium enterprises.

In her keynote address, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat encouraged the private sector, including local businesses, to invest in the development of tourism areas but said initiatives had to be inclusive and sustainable.

She said, “To truly create change in people’s lives, we need to involve the community and that includes the private sector.”

Concepcion, in his address to summit participants, said the Philippines’ natural resources, including its numerous islands, could be harnessed to create enterprises and livelihood opportunities for Filipinos.

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George Barcelon, chair of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and Asean-BAC Philippines council member, said PCCI was encouraging its local chapters to get closely involved in tourism businesses.

PCCI, he said, was collaborating with a German group and the Technology Education and Skills Development Authority in skills training in some parts of the country.

In the fora, speakers also talked about how aspiring tourist destinations must have the infrastructure and services in place to ensure the comfort, convenience and safety of visitors.

Palawan Gov. Jose Chavez Alvarez said the province, already a popular tourist destination, was building more hospitals and water supply infrastructure to ensure visitors had safe drinking water, and road networks to provide alternative modes of transport.

He said the growth of Palawan’s gross domestic product had been driven primarily by tourism.

Pocholo Paragas, COO of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, also stressed the need for continuity and consistency in policies and standards. Set standards should “remain regardless of changes,” including political, he emphasized.

He also said that, given the country’s many islands, the Philippines should look into building additional sea ports, which could attract the cruise business.

The need for infrastructure was also underscored by Tan Sri Anthony “Tony” Fernandes, group chief executive officer of AirAsia. In a “fireside chat” with broadcaster Korina Sanchez-Roxas, he said airlines needed airports and good infrastructure to and from airports. Batting for “frictionless tourism,” Fernandes said there should be no exit tax and immigration procedures should be done quickly.

Barcelon also cited the need for efficient digital connectivity, including access to Wi-Fi services and improved security.

“The safety [of tourists] is very important,” as he also emphasized the importance of sanitation and clean, safe food.

He added, “We should inculcate in the young the importance of tourism. If every one is conscious of the fact that tourism is important for the country, [they would be more invested in it].”

Speakers also said tourists should be offered various options in terms of accommodation.

Kemariah Duraman of Brunei Darussalam, who owned Kunyit 7 Lodge, said old houses could be turned into bed and breakfast facilities.

The initiative could support a family and pay for the gradual improvement of the venue.

Rafael Dionisio, cofounder of Circle Hostel and MAD Travel (Philippines), said sustainable eco-tourism partnerships should involve indigenous communities. Oudet Souvannavong, chair of Asean-BAC Laos, added that by by being unique, a place could ensure guests would return despite competition. —CONTRIBUTED

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