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Green Wanderer Travel Fair: Eco-tourism is in

WWF National Youth Council member Nikki Huang (left) with chairperson Alexa Cancio with photographic souvenirs of their best sustainable travel memories in El Nido and Mt. Maynoba.

MANILA, Philippines - Depending on who you ask, there’s no such thing as too much travel. The travel industry contributes around nine percent of the country’s total GDP, one out of 11 jobs are related to tourism and travel, and I don’t think it’s dropping anytime soon — and so are the effects of climate change and wasteful consumption.

But that doesn’t mean we have to stop flying. Nikki Huang, one of eight young Filipinos in WWF’s National Youth Council, has always practiced sustainable travel with her family. The daughter of Store Specialists Inc. Group president Anton Huang, WWF and SSI both have a special place in her heart; she figured she’d take her advocacy to the next level and have them team up in a travel fair like no other: Green Wanderer.

Green Wanderer offers sustainable travel options, from products made by local artisans to ecotourism destinations with uniquely curated itineraries for the curious, green traveler. Travel fairs are a dime a dozen in a world of people with inherent wanderlust, making it a very accessible medium to introduce the concept of sustainable travel — and that it’s easy and completely doable.

Just ask the younger Huang and WWF National Youth Council chairperson Alexa Cancio. Both have done their fair share of green travel, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

YSTYLE: What drew you to WWF and its advocacy? Have you always been involved with non-profit organizations?

Nikki H. Huang: I’ve been following their work since I was a young child dreaming of nothing more than becoming a marine biologist. I’d do entire school projects based on WWF’s research, and to be part of their operations in my very own country is nothing short of humbling. I’ve also sincerely enjoyed meeting a group of individuals so like-minded in their passion for our planet and yet just as diverse in background and outlook. I look up to all my co-ambassadors: Rama, Alexa, Yza, Sophie, Deign and Allen. As the youngest member of the NYC, it has been equal parts inspiring and pressuring to watch them expertly balance school, work and their involvement with WWF in such a way that they perform to the highest caliber at all times. 

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I’ve known since the beginning that WWF was the organization to be involved in if I was truly invested in fostering positive change within the Philippine community. As controversial as it might seem, I never found myself prioritizing initiatives intended for human benefit, despite my great respect for their missions. I am constantly guided by the thought that helping humanity is futile if we don’t do our share in investing in the future of the planet upon which we live first. 

My personal advocacy is sustainable business, and, as such, consumerism, and it was this advocacy that gave birth to the concept for Green Wanderer. 

How about you, Alexa, as chairperson of the WWF National Youth Council, what are the top green initiatives that you want the youth to be more involved in?

ALEXA BANAL CANCIO: Young people, having access to various information particularly through social media, are aware of the different social and environmental issues taking place all over the world. We believe that many of these issues can be addressed on the individual level by improving the way we live, which is why our council of eight members felt sustainable living would be the most appropriate message to push not just with young people, but with the Philippine society in general. Under sustainable living, we wanted to highlight three main areas: responsible travel, sustainable consumption and sustainable eating. These are aspects of our lives that we encounter, more often than not, on a daily basis and can have a huge impact when taken as a collective effort.

Nikki, growing up with the family business of fashion and lifestyle retail, how do you make your personal fashion consumption greener, too?

HUANG: I buy as ethically as possible when it comes to fashion, supporting smaller- to medium-scale brands whose production provides skilled craftsmen with employment, an opportunity to continue to improve in their art, and get material from high-quality, sustainable sources. For example, I find it a much better investment to buy a single pair of shoes of high quality, whose production provides an Italian cobbler with income, whose leather comes from pastured cows and highly regulated tanneries, than several cheaper pairs from a fast fashion brand’s assembly line. People have often asked me about the potential conflict between the fashion world and environmental conservation efforts, but being involved with WWF has taught me about the importance of finding a happy medium that benefits all stakeholders in a similar fashion. 

How do you practice sustainable travel in your own way?

HUANG: I personally believe one of the best ways to practice sustainable travel is to ensure the environmental integrity of your accommodations. Once you’ve done this, you’ve essentially streamlined the sustainability initiatives of your entire trip. This is why WWF has decided to pursue Green Wanderer. It is meant to make finding hotels, motels and resorts that adhere to — and even better, exceed — environmental sustainability regulations as accessible as possible for all Filipino travelers. 

CANCIO: When I have to buy something, even something as small as a notebook, I try to find a brand that implements ethical practices when it comes to its employees, its operations, and the products themselves. In terms of responsible travel, I support sustainable hotels/accommodation groups and ethical travel activities when I can. If there is a hotel that uses organically sourced food, energy efficient lighting, or supports local communities through its operations, I choose those accommodations. If there is a tour group that will allow me to see wildlife while still respecting their space or get to know a local community while respecting their culture, I would go for that. A great way for me to remember my travels is to take photographs of the beautiful places I visit and the amazing people I meet, rather than picking something up from the natural environment or buying souvenirs. If I do end up buying a souvenir, I make sure that it is ethically produced or sourced and that the product does not harm any endangered animals. Sometimes it does take a bit of research to know what sustainable travel etiquette is. Right now, there isn’t any common online platform to find all the sustainable travel options in the Philippines, but just doing a simple search on Google can actually get you places. Some of the sustainable tour groups I am personally looking forward to trying are MAD Travel, Bambike Tours, Reef Nomads and TripKada.

Green travel minimizes the ecological footprint we leave behind, but how does it also enrich the travel experience itself? 

HUANG: It inherently involves you in something larger than your own personal desire to see and experience new places. Sustainable travel allows you to be the guest favored by every homeowner. You leave a place even better than it was before your visit. In this scenario, Earth is the homeowner, and as her eternal guests, it’s our responsibility to return Earth’s hospitality in whatever way possible, whether it be by using renewable energy, eating sustainably sourced food, or only practicing low-impact water sports.

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Green Wanderer exhibitors include Reef PH, Lagalag, Banana Peel, El Nido, Circle Hostel, Daluyon, Cebu Pacific, Skyjet Airlines, Philtoa, Travel Factor, Trail Adventours, Locally PH, Green Wanderer Merchandise, and WWF-Philippines. Experts in sustainability and the environment will be delivering talks. National Geographic will be holding a film showing of Years of Living Dangerously. There will be a cooking demo and food tasting courtesy of the award-winning book author Clang Garcia. Resort and hotel sponsors will also be giving away exciting prizes, while airline sponsors will be raffling off tour packages to local green locations. Exclusive and limited-edition Green Wanderer merchandise will be on sale during the fair (a portion of the proceeds will be donated to WWF Philippines.) 

For more information, visit www.wwf.org,ph, or follow @ssilifeph on Instagram .

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