Sustainable tourism
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2019 - 12:00am

It is quite disturbing to learn the latest cases of Chinese nationals being kidnapped by their fellow countrymen while working in the Philippine Online Gaming Operators (POGOs) here. Their modus operandi is abducting them and getting their families in China to cough up ransom for the safe release of the victim.

The worst part of the problem is many of them were unreported once the kidnap victim is freed unharmed after payment of ransom. It has apparently become so lucrative that these criminal elements come here as tourists from China and have recruited Filipino accomplices to ply their kidnapping crime trade.

This is the ugly side of the proliferation of illegal POGOs that is fast becoming a major headache of Philippine government law enforcement authorities. More than a law enforcement problem, the spate of kidnapping of Chinese POGO workers also gives a black eye to our Philippine tourism.

Our Department of Tourism (DOT) led by Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat could only do so much to bring more tourists to come to the Philippines where they are supposed to feel safe to travel and visit many of our natural beautiful spots and scenery. In fact, the DOT reported much improved tourist arrivals for this year. The country recorded a total of 6,800,052 visitors from January to October 2019, or an impressive 15.04 percent increase from the 5,911,161 arrivals for the same period last year.

The total number for the whole year is projected to hit the seven-million mark on international tourist arrivals, especially after our country’s hosting of the 30th South East Asian Games (SEA) Games officially ending today. About 5,864 athletes and another 8,544 coaches, trainers and other sports technical officials arrived in the country for the past two weeks. 

The DOT Secretary had to step into the picture during the run-up of the SEA Games when some of the delegations arrived too early and caused some inconveniences on hotel accommodations. Under the DOT leadership of their industry, the hotels stepped up to the challenge of pre-SEA Games glitches and ironed out the accommodation kinks with the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC).

For the first ten months, Korea still topped the list of tourist arrivals with a total of 1,609,172 arrivals (+21.75%). The DOT expects this will further improve following the signing of the tourism cooperation program between the Philippines and Korea. The DOT Secretary signed the cooperation program with her South Korean counterpart as part of the government-to-government agreements made during the official visit of President Duterte in Seoul last month.

According to the same DOT report, tourist arrivals from China were the second biggest group with 1,499,524 (+41.13%) followed by the United States of America (USA) at third place with 872,335 (+2.53%) for the ten-month period. Japan remained fourth in the list with 569,625 (+7.43%), followed by Taiwan, with a record of 282,220 (+36.77%) completing the top five tourism markets of the Philippines.

Puyat attributed the encouraging figures to the improved air connectivity, intensified marketing promotions including the refreshed “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign, budding relations with other countries, as well as the growing recognition of the country’s sustainable tourism advocacy.

Speaking of sustainable tourism campaign, we were among the members of media who were invited to witness the ceremonial switch on of the 30-feet tall Christmas tree at the beach plaza of the premier resort village Pico de Loro Cove at the Hamilo Coast in Nasugbu, Batangas last Nov. 30. The Christmas tree lighting ceremonies were led by Pico de Loro Beach & Country Club president Rita Dy; Maggie Garcia who is the general manager for Pico Sands Hotel along with Nian Rigor, assistant vice president for marketing and communications of SM Hotels and Conventions Corp.  

Timed at sundown, they switched on the bright and sparkly 2,500 pieces of tivoli lights that illuminated the colorful capiz lanterns and other Christmas ornaments that were wrapped around the body of the Christmas tree made of sawali. The sawali – a coarse twilled matting of flattened bamboo strips used in nipa huts and native baskets – is just one of the many native organic materials which were collected from within the environs of the 42-hectare Pico de Loro.

The lanterns that surrounded the Christmas tree were made of capiz – a flat, semi-transparent shell with a pearlescent appearance that comes from the outer shell of a marine mollusk that abound at coastal waters. Unique ornaments in shapes of birds made of talisay seeds adorned the Christmas tree that stood against the magnificent view of the sunset and ocean horizon with the verdant mountains around the cover in the background.

“But it’s even more heart-warming to share that this tree is a symbol of our commitment to making yuletide celebration as sustainable as possible,” Garcia proudly declared after switching on the lights of the Christmas tree.

This is because the Pico de Loro Cove is one of several marine protected areas in Hamilo Coast where marine life is preserved and enhanced through the partnership with the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature Philippines since 2007.

Incidentally, the WWF for Nature Philippines awarded last month The Philippine STAR as “Traditional Media Partner of the Year” for supporting the various initiatives that promote sustainable development projects that protect our country’s environment. Accepting the award in behalf of The STAR, we received the WWF for Nature Philippines trophy in the image of three trees “made from washed-up wires collected during beach clean-ups as part of their commitment to a clean future.”

The future generation of Filipinos is secured now that many in the Philippine corporate community, especially tourism establishments, have embraced sustainable development as the right way of doing business.    

*      *      *

DOT Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat is our featured guest today in our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle.

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