FOR Philippine tourism to stand out in the coming Asean integration, it should consistently promote itself as an eco-tourism destination, according to an official of the United Nations World Trade Organization (UNWTO).
Harry Hwang, UNWTO deputy regional director for Asia and the Pacific, said in an interview that the Philippines, which is known to foreign tourists for its beaches, should also consider highlighting other eco-tourism sites.
“We believe that the Philippines has a lead role in the climate change movement, it being a destination for nature,” Hwang told Sun.Star Cebu.
Hwang was with tourism stakeholders and officials on Saturday for an eco-tourism technical tour in Bohol. About 200 delegates of the 5th World Ecotourism Conference attended the one-day tour.
They visited the Loboc River cruise, the Tarsier Sanctuary, Chocolate Hills, the Man-Made Forest, and the South Palms Resort in Panglao Island.
Joshue Hinay, president of the Bohol Island Tour Guides Association of the Philippines, said that Bohol has consistently promoted itself as an eco-cultural destination, describing its tourist sites as always “one with nature.”
Department of Tourism (DOT) 7 senior tourism operations officer Judilyn Quiachon backed Hinay’s statement, saying DOT 7 brought the delegates to Bohol because the province is one of the best places in the country for eco-tourism.
Aside Bohol is also famous for its adventure park in the town of Danao, the Bohol Bee Farm in Panglao and the Abatan River in the town of Maribojoc.
“Through eco-tourism, everyone in the community benefits…it is a core product that can serve as a tool to prove that the community can be developed,” Hwang said.
Bohol Gov. Edgar M. Chatto said in a previous interview that tourism accounted for 20 percent to 25 percent of Bohol’s economy.
For the Loboc River Cruise’s case alone, Hinay said a percentage of the tax collected from its operations is distributed yearly to all barangays in Loboc. The fund is used to improve the town’s roads and other infrastructure.
Loboc River Cruise attracts around 2,500 domestic and foreign tourists in a day during peak seasons, which are the months of March, April and May and November and December, with tourists paying to as much as P500 each, adding up to P1.25 million a day.
As a way to help the Philippines’s tourism sector, particularly disaster-stricken areas like Cebu, Bohol, and Tacloban, Hwang said UNWTO will be sending an expert in the coming days to assess tourism-related needs in these areas and provide immediate recommendations to help in recovery.
He said UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai and an official from the Pacific Asia Travel Association will be coming over to the Philippines in May to look into what assistance can be extended.
Hwang said UNWTO is not promising financial aid to the Philippines but the organization can help find funds for tourism-related concerns.
The official also commended the efforts of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the DOT for coming up with a 10-year eco-tourism plan for the Philippines. This would provide a framework on the overall ecotourism plan of the country for 2013-2022.
DENR and DOT “have teamed up to ensure that the government’s biodiversity conservation efforts would not be compromised by ongoing tourism development projects in various parts of the country,” according to the Philippine government’s Official Gazette.
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism deputy minister Dr. Tin Shwe, meanwhile, is calling on Filipinos to also visit Myanmar. He said travel expense in the Philippines is equivalent to that in Myanmar, describing it as “affordable.”
Shwe said his country is also enhancing its eco-tourism platforms.
Myanmar tourists are mostly Chinese, Thais, Malaysians, Americans and French, with arrivals hitting 2.44 million in 2013, doubling the more than 1 million in tourist arrivals in 2012. Shwe said the country is targeting three million tourists this year.
DOT recorded 4.7 million international visitors in 2013, surpassing the 2012’s record of 4.3 million by 9.56 percent. News reports quoted Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. as saying in January this year that he believes the Philippines can attract 5.7 million visitors in 2014.