By Kara Santos
Tourism is one of the Philippines’ best potential industries, giving countless jobs to locals. But ironically, it is our natural attractions like oceans, mountains, waterfalls and lakes that are being exploited and destroyed.
Thankfully, some local officials are starting to see the value of sustainability in their destinations, and putting policies, incentives, and legislation in place to protect these natural wonders for future generations to enjoy.
Here are some of the best practices I’ve come across in different spots around the country that ensure sustainable tourism. Other areas can use these principles for their guidance in crafting their own rules.
Limit the Number of Visitors Per Day
Following the problems of overcrowding, many hiking destinations and island-hopping destinations have started enforcing a carrying capacity.
Following its six-month closure, Boracay has imposed a limit of 19,000 people on the resort island when it reopened. During its peak, they regularly had 40,000 to 50,000 tourists a day.
Smaller island-hopping destinations like Santa Cruz Island (famed for its pink sand beach) in Zamboanga City only allows 300 visitors a day. For van and island-hopping trips, tour operators should keep the size of their groups small to have minimal impact on the environment and avoid accidents.
Ban drinking, smoking and loud music in public places
Every view deck and beautiful sightseeing spot in the country that gives a panoramic view is often littered with discarded cigarette butts. You find empty and broken liquor bottles on the most stunning beaches, with its shards in danger of being stepped on by other tourists. Yes, I understand the need for people to destress and drink, but if you can’t dispose of trash like cigarette butts properly, it’s best for the activities to be banned altogether.
As much as I enjoy a bottle of beer every now and then, it’s when people bring large amounts of liquor and make the tourist spots their personal watering hole, that things can get messy literally. It gets a lot noisier and sometimes fights break out, leading to disorderly conduct.
Playing loud music and karaoke should be enjoyed in enclosed rooms or bars and not out in nature. If you want to listen to music, use headphones. While karaoke is an essential part of Pinoy culture, it can also be noise pollution to those who just want to enjoy the serenity of the outdoors.
There are many ways you can enjoy a beautiful tourist spot without smoking, drinking or belting out off-key tunes as loudly as possible, thank you very much.
Ban the use of disposable utensils & single-use plastics
During a recent visit to a waterfall near Manila that is a popular picnic spot for locals, I noticed signs saying visitors are no longer allowed to bring in plastic cups and food in Styro packs, which I think should be a rule in ALL tourist destinations to avoid the problem of trash buildup.
It’s sickening to see people just throwing their plastic water bottles, fast food packaging and plastic utensils into the sea or a river they’ve just swam in. I’ve seen this so many times. You find discarded sachets of shampoo and soap bars washed up on the beach.
Some spots ban vendors from selling food items using plastic cups and plastic straws. There are always alternatives. Tourists can buy cold drinks in glass bottles (which are recycled) rather than plastic. Vendors can sell natural options like fresh coconut juice (minus the straw) and local delicacies like suman and kakaninpackaged in natural packaging like leaves.
Garbage in, Garbage out
“Leave no trace” is a principle that does not get followed especially on hiking trails, mountains and beaches. I’m glad to see that some islands have started imposing a “Garbage in, Garbage out” policy for tourists, requiring everyone to bring back their trash. Tour operators should require guests to bring their own reusable water bottles and eco-bags. This will also force everyone to rethink what they need to bring and pack light.
Maximize the benefits for the local community
The great thing about tourism is that it can empower locals to take care of their natural attractions because they benefit from the natural beauty.
It’s best to partner with the local community and give them additional income by having them take part in other tours. In many places I’ve been to, locals serve as hiking guides, porters and boatmen. Some have opened up their homes to homestay options so that tourists can benefit from the influx of tourism instead of larger hotels.
Instead of bringing in packaged food, buy or source food from community-led dining establishments. Encourage tourists to buy local products and handicrafts (as long as they’re not made of endangered coral, flora or fauna). Everyone can do their part to help!
For more travel tips, visit the author’s blog www.traveling-up.com.