IF there’s one thing that really benefited from the pandemic and from the quarantine...it’s Mother Nature! After so much use and abuse by the people who should be protecting them, Mother Nature had its much-deserved rest!
With lesser cars and motorists on the streets, one can breathe fresh air and see the clear blue skies of Metro Manila.
With lesser people loitering and littering in the parks, grasses are greener and flowers abloom.
With lesser people flocking to the beaches, the shores and sea waters are clean and sea life aplenty.
Mother Nature had a good respite!
But with the quarantines being relaxed and local tourism being allowed again, the above may be short-lived...but I hope I am wrong.
There is no debate that we already need to open more industries, specifically the tourism industry, to help jumpstart our economic recovery. After all, the tourism industry contributes 12.7 % to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but the industry is projected to decline by more than 55% this year.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that revenue from tourist arrivals in the Philippines last January to April decreased by 55 percent, from P180.5 billion to P79.8 billion, compared to figures during the same period in 2019. As for the rest of 2020 with the pandemic still raging, prospects for international tourism appear dim. This translates to thousands of tourism job losses.
We understand and fully support the reopening and promotion of local tourism. But this initiative comes with a challenge.
How do we open again our parks and beaches for business but still protect our environment? How do we strike that balancing act?
Perhaps, this is the time for the Philippine Tourism industry and our Local Government Units to rethink the current business model and shift it towards more sustainable and responsible tourism. Where the accountability and responsibility of protecting our environment are not only on the government officials and business owners but is shared by the tourists themselves.
I read an article in Jakarta Post, for instance, that in Bali, one of the top international tourist destinations, a $10 tax on foreign tourists is being proposed by their officials. The money is supposed to fund programs to preserve the environment and Balinese culture.
A study carried out by Udayana University reportedly found that tourists would have no problem paying the fee if it helps the environment.
As someone who frequently travels, I couldn’t agree more. I have joined a number of tours where we were collected environmental fees and I didn’t mind because I saw how they were able to protect and preserve their natural wonders. They even impose a substantial penalty for those who will be caught littering or damaging/hurting any plants, trees, or animals. That is sustainable and responsible tourism with consequences for non-compliance.
Now that we have opened some of our tourist destinations, it is not enough that we only monitor the tourists for their compliance with the health protocols. Because while it is important for tourists to present proof that they’re Covid-19 free, properly wear their masks and face shield, observe social distancing, etc, it is equally important that they are made aware of their responsibility to protect and preserve this natural wonder that they are visiting. And that there are consequences should they choose not to.
But these efforts should be initiated by the LGUs and business owners and must also include local community ownership and engagement so the local residents can appreciate the long-term value of protecting their environment and sites while having a say on how things are done and receiving a fair share of the gains.
Let us not put to waste the lessons we learned and continue to learn during this pandemic. Let the COVID be the turning point for sustainable and responsible tourism.
Let us be mindful that while we need to open our tourism businesses and generate jobs, we are all responsible for protecting and preserving Mother Earth! It’s not as if we have a spare Earth in our pocket.
We don’t need to quarantine people just to enjoy again the fresh air, the clear skies, the clean beaches, and the greener parks. We just need to involve all parties and do our own share to find the right balance!