Expert says prioritize environment to sustain tourism

Dr. Corazon Sinha, senior lecturer at Tourism and Heritage Studies of Western Sydney University, reminded tourism officers in Palawan to prioritize environmental component in tourism to attain sustainability, during the Forum on Sustainable Ecotourism Practices to Safeguard Palawan Biodiversity last March 11 at Best Western Plus Ivy Wall Hotel.

            “Tourism is considered sustainable if it is carried out continuously over time without reducing or diminishing the environmental values of destinations for the present and for future generations,” Sinha shared.

            The ecotourism expert said that while the biodiversity of an island is unique and its natural, cultural, or social attractiveness make tourism a good development strategy, it is also vulnerable to natural disasters such as climate change which is why careful management must be observed.

            “Pag nasira na ang destination wala nang balikan, at ‘pag ibabalik it cost a lot and [the question is] acceptable pa ba or authentic pa ba ang isang lugar na binalik or restored,” she said.   

True Ecotourism

            Before categorizing a site as ecotourism, she said it must first meet all the criteria and elements of true ecotourism.

Sinha explained that ecotourism is nature-based, but the environment doesn’t have to be untouched for as long as the management or development is based on the fundamental features of the place’s nature.

            There are three components in ecotourism, according to Sinha, particularly the economic component, social component, and environmental component.   

            Local government units should first assess their potential tourist destinations and identify what kind of tourism they will offer to avoid confusion and to provide the focus in the management, she advised.

Carrying Capacity

            Environmental resources have certain quantitative capacity to accommodate certain activities, said Sinha. This is often termed as the “carrying capacity value” which can be determined through scientific process of trial and error, observations, and adjustments.

            She cautioned that if this threshold is overstepped, then the tourist destinations will “collapse”.

            Sinha suggested that a networking of sites must be done to avoid tourists flocking in a single area alone. She stressed that aside from diversifying the kinds of tourism being offered, a map showing all the tourist destinations in Palawan must also be posted in hotels and airports.

Supply-Driven vs. Demand-Driven

            “Dapat supply-driven ka, wrong if demand-driven ka. Pag demand-driven ka, talo ka in the long term. Yung supply mo dapat ang masunod,” Sinha said.

One indicator of a demand-driven tourism, said Sinha, is when there is high  leakage of import and export.

            Mr. Wilbur Dee, another lecturer in the forum and an adviser of USAID Protect Wildlife, said that ecotourism must not be “reactive”, instead ecotourism network must be established first before developing the market.

            Sinha advised LGUs with potential tourist sites to study first the areas and identify what measures should be observed before marketing it to the public to avoid repeating the same mistakes of some known but unsustainable tourist spots.

Conservation Education

            Before tourists engage in tours and activities, they must first be thoroughly oriented of the rules and the reasons for setting them, Sinha suggested.

            She said further that rebranding destinations from focusing on “recreational experience” to the “ecological importance of nature” could help make them become more sustainable. 

            Sinha is a member of the World Commission for Protected Areas in Australian-New Zealand and the global Task Force of Parks and Cities. She has served as the Director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Philippine Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.