Green tourism
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - June 10, 2019 - 12:00am

My body can tell when the air quality is good. I don’t develop allergic rhinitis even when I’m caught in the rain, and I don’t get skin breakouts when it’s humid. My eyes don’t itch when the wind is strong. I can breathe easy even after strolling around for hours.

For water quality, the litmus test is whether I can drink water straight from the tap without developing amoebiasis. This I could do in Scotland, even in the remote highland villages where I went last week looking for the Loch Ness monster (if you’ve imbibed enough Scottish home-brewed malt whisky, you’ll see Nessie).

Back in Manila late Thursday night, a blast of vehicle carbon monoxide greeted me as I stepped out of the air-conditioned arrival area at the NAIA Terminal 3. The next morning, my rhinitis was back.

Last Friday’s news on TV 5 showed video footage of the vile green algae now infesting Laguna de Bay, which has reportedly sickened residents of Muntinlupa.

I was told that while I was away, our reliable household water purifier wasn’t enough to remove impurities in the tap water that had turned turbid. Everyone suffered from a bout of diarrhea, which stopped only when they bought bottled water.

Being clean and green surely contributed to the selection of Scotland as the most beautiful country in the world. The honor was given by people using the UK-based travel guidebook Rough Guide, so that could have been a biased selection.

Still, even if beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I have my own biased opinion of the beauty of Philippines my Philippines, I am conceding that Scotland has stunning attractions.

And the low pollution level – whether on land or in the air and water – adds to the appeal.

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Approximately 3.5 million foreign travelers visited Scotland in 2018, spending 2.2 billion pounds sterling (about P145.45 billion) – not counting the 11.8 million visitors from the rest of the United Kingdom who spent another 2.8 billion pounds (about P185.12 billion). That’s a lot of people for a country with a population of only 5.42 million as of 2018.

The country benefits from strong pop appeal. J.K. Rowling wrote the “Harry Potter” novels in cafes and other spots around Scottish capital Edinburgh, a city with two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Traveling around Scotland gives you an idea of what might have fired up Rowling’s imagination, and why she has chosen to live in a sprawling estate in the Scottish countryside. The Scottish highlands on the road to Loch Ness reportedly provided the backdrop for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as well as parts of the James Bond movie “Skyfall.” James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s parents have a house in the highlands. Sean Connery is a native of Edinburgh; Gerard Butler is from southern Scotland. The X-Men’s James McAvoy is from Glasgow; Ewan McGregor is from Perth.

From another era, Glasgow native son and Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns penned the immortal Auld Lang Syne.

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Cinema and tourism cross paths; movies can influence public perceptions of a country and draw travelers. “Game of Thrones” has boosted tourism in Iceland so much that the country has had to regulate visitors in its top destinations. New Zealand continues to draw visitors to the settings for “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Movie depictions of a country won’t always be positive. Russians complain about the stereotypical negative depiction of their country and its citizens in western movies. Thanks to cinema, some countries are seen as dangerous zones of armed conflict long after the security risks are gone.

In our case, Manila has been featured in some western movies, but mainly highlighting urban blight, or what some describe as poverty porn.

Despite our fondness for western movies, and the fact that Filipinos are working in film production outfits in Hollywood and New Zealand, we have yet to maximize our potential in this sector.

The limestone formations of Palawan, for example, could have been the setting for the remake of “King Kong.” Instead the producers picked Vietnam’s Halong Bay.

With so many Filipinos working as film animators overseas, the Philippines could position itself as a regional center for animation.

To draw the big studios to a foreign country, it helps to be clean, green, with the production crew enjoying a measure of personal safety. Security could have been a factor in the selection of Halong Bay as King Kong’s home, aside from the fact that the limestone formations in the bay, I must concede, are truly extensive and spectacular.

The Vietnamese government doesn’t have to threaten anyone with Tokhang to ensure that the King Kong film crew would be safe. The Vietnamese know the dividends of tourism and foreign enterprises in their land, and have moved to improve their tourism services and infrastructure. 

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Even the international donor community recognizes the value of tourism in job generation, poverty alleviation and development efforts. Multilateral lender Asian Development Bank is working with governments to make tourism sustainable, ADB president Takehiko Nakao said at this year’s annual meeting of the bank’s Board of Governors in Fiji. Even support for solid waste management is important for tourism development, Nakao pointed out.

Scotland has a land area of only 80,077 square kilometers, compared to the Philippines’ 300,000 sq km. Scotland is part of the United Kingdom and, unlike our developing country, is wealthy enough to invest in tourism infrastructure and the initial steep funding requirements for a clean, green, sustainable economy. Its tiny population also makes all of these tasks easier.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat understands the need for sustainable and “transparent” tourism. She knows she will need the cooperation of all sectors to achieve this goal. So far, she told journalists in Fiji, the greatest resistance to the needed reforms has been coming from certain local government executives. But this problem is not insurmountable.

Turning green can require substantial investments. Still, developing countries like ours can move forward on this, at a modest pace and with limited funding. It would be good not just for tourism but our own personal health.

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