Are you a responsible traveller?

6828822The latest trend in travel is bothersome.  The huge volumes of tourists that are going to places that may not be ready for hordes of people are creating serious impacts that may be far reaching than we think. Technology is making these places more vulnerable because they get advertised even before they plan for anything. As a result, tourism has become uncontrolled, and people who live in the communities, including local governments, end up being overwhelmed.

It is therefore important for each person who wish to travel to go through the process of reflection, and consciously think of ways by which ones impact on a destination may be minimized.  Here are some tips on how you can become a responsible traveler, and create positive impacts on the places you visit.


1. Remember that the money that you pay when you visit a place does not give you the right to destroy it, or to abuse the locals. 
The money ONLY gives you the right to experience the place and the culture. Your financial contribution can actually provide an economic incentive for the community members to take care of their natural and cultural assets, such that when you come back with your children or your grandchildren the place will still be the same.


2.  Do not immortalize yourself by leaving graffiti behind.  
Writing, carving, etching, painting your name on rocks, corals, trees, caves and infrastructure shows how insecure you are that you need to do this to get attention. I have seen graffiti that even includes people’s phone numbers. It is sad that these people may not know of a better way to get friends. This act is simply unacceptable, both to locals and to those who understand how important heritage is. Defacing things that are valuable is very irresponsible. There has to be strict rules and penalties with regards to graffiti, especially in sacred sites and outstanding natural locations. And if you are somebody famous or is a well-known personality, then all the more that you should be more careful with what you do. People tend to emulate people they know and admire, even if they do something irresponsible.
3.  Do not barter if you are dealing with marginalized communities.
You need to understand that these people also have families to support. They are just like you and me, trying to make a living. If you can afford it, why not pay the right price. There is nothing wrong with positioning a place as a high value destination, especially if it has fragile and beautiful ecosystems that need protection from human activities. The communities have the right to choose which market segment they wish to tap – mass market or ecotourists. High value/low volume strategy is highly recommended if communities wish to have low impact tourism, and still derive significant economic benefit that will be distributed well across the value chain. There is a premium for “handmade” products and ecotourists understand this. So, in case you vaguely understand this concept, it is time to start educating yourself, and perhaps even reflect on whether you have the attitude of  a mass tourist, or whether you are a responsible one.


4.  Take your non-biodegradable garbage with you.
Just think for a moment where your garbage will go. You are on a beautiful island that you consider as paradise. There are no dumpsite or sanitary landfills anywhere since the community is poor and has no proper infrastructure. Heck, they are even burning their own garbage. Imagine 1,000 tourists coming in and bringing all sorts of trash that will never ever degrade (styrofoam containers, plastic spoons, foil wrappers, plastic cups, mylar wrappers, plastic bags and whole lot more).  All these 1,000 people, including bloggers start posting pictures of paradise in the internet. Then more people start to come and bring in more garbage. You may start thinking of dumping the trash into the sea where they will not be seen. Don’t be surprised if the locals also start resorting to this because they have no better way to disposing of your trash. Yes, it is your trash, hence you have the responsibility of disposing it responsibly. Take it with you to the mainland where there is garbage collection. And don’t you dare dump it in the streets either.
5.  Follow rules and regulations and understand why they are being implemented.
One thing that I have learned when I was studying Environmental Education is that EE is important for increased awareness. But for those who have no awareness whatsoever, rules and penalties apply. It is the role of local government to pass ordinances that will control behavior of tourists and investors. People can be selfish and only think of their own benefit. Many Filipinos also do not take rules seriously, because they think that they can always get away with it. After all, some law enforcers can be bribed or “fooled” through “pakiusap”. This attitude has to end, if we want to protect our destinations from human induced destruction. Rules should apply to all, and as they say, “sample! sample! sample!”  When people actually get penalized the others start thinking that the local government really means business. And they start to follow.Remember that every human being has a footprint on a daily basis and it is our responsibility to make sure that we are aware of our impacts. It is time for change. We need to find ways by which we can go through each day without leaving destruction in our wake.

This article was originally published in Chen Reyes-Mencias’ blog, QuantumLight.
Photos are by Chen Reyes-Mencias

Supercharge your next holiday

PictureSummer is just around the corner, and it is time to plan  for a fabulous holiday to some far-flung destination.  You owe it to yourself to make it a memorable one, at most,  a life-changing one.  Here are some tips on how you can enhance your vacation:

1. Do something different.
Make a list of all the things that you want to do but have not done yet.  This may include snorkeling on a marine sanctuary or braving a caving adventure.  Perhaps even signing up for a birding tour while paddling in the mangrove may prove to be interesting.  To those who are not too adventurous and wish to avoid an adrenaline rush, a trip to an agri-tourism farm to learn about organic farming may prove to be educational.  It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as  it is something that you have not done before.  By going out of your comfort zone, you provide yourself an opportunity to  discover new  things that could possibly give you  joy. The further you are from your comfort zone, the more potential for growth there will be.


2.  Be with nature.  
Research shows that nature has healing qualities.  Simply being in the midst of nature can supercharge your body with positive energy that can repair cells, relax muscles, slow down heart rate and even normalize blood pressure.  Stay away from noisy videoke bars or beach concerts.  Instead, do nature walks in the mangrove,  trek in the forest or visit a nearby stream.  Listening to the sound of lapping waves,  singing birds,  rustling trees or   flowing water.  Smell the earthiness of the dead leaves on the ground or the sweet bloom of the coffee trees in the forest.  Feast your eyes on the beauty of  the landscape and the seascape.  Be awed by the magnificence of nature and be thankful for a chance to see, feel, smell  and hear  all its manifestations.

Picture3.  Discover new culture.
Immersing yourself in the culture of the place that you visit enhances your appreciation of the diversity in beliefs and traditions.  It makes you understand that contrast is awesome, and  you realize that opening your mind to other possibilities releases you from the bondage of limiting beliefs.  Discovering a totally different culture may prove to be shocking to those who are not used to being exposed to cultures other than what they have been born with.  But, with the right attitude,  the experience  could be life changing. Avoid being judgmental.  Be an observer first,  then a learner, a sifter and a person who respects diversity.


4. Contribute to the community that you visit.  
Being stingy is not always the best way to go about your vacation. Remember that communities who are engaged in tourism related services are in  it because it is their livelihood.  They also have families to support. This is particularly true for communities that had been capacitated and supported by government and funding agencies.  Community-based tourism is designed to provide an economic incentive for people to conserve natural resources.  By buying community tour packages and products,  you are giving them a chance to be part of development.  Inclusive growth can only happen if the marginalized sector of the community is on board. You play an important role because you are part of the value chain.Remember that travel is not just about you getting the cheapest deal.  It is also about you growing by leaps and bound, and contributing to community development.
For more information on the concept of community-based tourism, sign up for the upcoming Philippine Ecotourism 101 seminar

This article was originally published in Chen Reyes-Mencias’ blog, QuantumLight.
Photos are by Chen Reyes-Mencias and Patricia Mencias

The hiking trails of Lubang

PictureThe Verde Island Passage, also called  VIP, is located between Batangas and Mindoro.  Dubbed as the center of marine shorefish biodiversity in the world,  it is not only rich in marine resources.  It has also been blessed with an island group that is endowed with outstanding natural assets.  The Lubang Island Group or LIG is composed of the municipalities of Lubang and Looc and are nestled on the western tip of the VIP.  In 2010  the  leaders of both towns decided to craft a single roadmap for tourism development. I had the privilege of being given the task of facilitating the planning process and help the island residents articulate for themselves  the type of tourism that will uplift the lives of the people.

PictureBack then, the islanders agreed that hiking in the forests of Lubang is one activity that will be promoted. After all,  LIG has an extensive forest cover that, interestingly, has been preserved due to the presence of a Japanese straggler by the name of Lt. Hiroo Onoda.  He was an Imperial Japanese intelligence officer who was sent to Lubang in December 1944 to bomb Tilik port, but failed. When the Americans and the Philippine Commonwealth forces landed in Lubang in February 1945, Onoda ran into the jungles and stayed there  for 30 years, refusing to believe that the war was over.  He came down from the mountain only upon receiving a direct order from his commanding officer Major Yoshimi Taniguchi in March 1974.

Five years ago, I was part of the team that assessed and mapped  the forest and the caves where Lt. Onoda used to live.  Three Onoda Trail loops were  plotted and designed so that they can  provide hiking experiences to visitors of varying levels of skills. Onoda Trail has emerged as  the primary tourism product of Lubang due to its historical value. Even Japanese tourists have started visiting the island. Trained guides take visitors  to four of several caves in the forest that became Onoda’s refuge.

Another interesting hiking site is Hulagaan which starts off from the beach that is known for its colorful rocks. A visitor rest area has been constructed near the delta of a stream and here hikers are briefed prior to the hike.  An hour walk ends in a wondrous waterfalls with a pool deep enough for a refreshing swim.  The trail weaves through the forest and has railings and stone steps, making it relatively easy for most visitors. Back on the beach hut,  one can laze at a natural “infinity pool” at the stream and get a free pedicure from the tiny fishes that are found there.


The Municipalities  of Lubang and Looc are the only LGUs in the entire MIMAROPA region that have a roadmap for tourism development.  It will not come as a surprise if  one day Lubang becomes the model for community-based sustainable tourism development. Soon, it will implement a cutting-edge concept  that applies the principles of wealth generation for  tourism that I have conceptualised and designed to promote inclusive growth. I call it The Chain of Prosperity.

This article was originally published in Chen Reyes-Mencias’ blog, QuantumLight.
Photos are by Chen Reyes-Mencias

Five ways to be a better traveler in 2016

PictureTravel is an excellent way to learn and expand one’s world.  Travel trends such as lower airfare, cheaper accommodations and increased disposable income for younger people,   have all contributed to the increased tourist traffic of popular, as well as new destinations.  Travel has never been  this big before.  Experts predict that it will further increase in the coming years  as destinations become more accessible, and new outstanding places are discovered.

Although increased tourist traffic may drive the economy,  people can also cause negative impacts on the places they visit.  Unfortunately for the Philippines, the measure for the industry are both economic – tourist arrival and tourist receipt – such that the price of economic development is not part of the equation.  We simply do not have an idea of the extent of the  social and environmental costs of tourism development in the country.

It goes without saying that every tourist has a footprint,  since every human being leaves an impact on the planet on  a daily basis.  The footprint comes in the form of the resources that are utililized, such as water, energy, food, as well as the wastes that are produced.  It is therefore  important for people to be more conscious of their decisions and behaviour when travelling because they may actually be contributing to the destruction of the destinations that they visit.  Here are some tips on how to travel more responsibly and lessen ones’ impact.

  1. Learn, don’t just take photos. The selfie culture is making travel less experiential. People scramble to take their photos against the landscape or with somebody from the community, primarily to post in the internet.  Learning or getting inspired have become secondary objectives. Very few willingly immerse themselves in the culture of the place, or consciously capture the available knowledge with their  minds. Travel is no longer an opportunity for deep experiences. It has been reduced to a chance to simply take a photo. Consciously enhancing one’s travel through experiential learning can create long-lasting memories.
  2. Follow rules and protocols.  Visitors equally share the responsibility of taking care of the place with the locals.  The money that tourists pay gives them  the right to experience that place and the people.  It does not  provide them the right to exploit or disrespect those who live in the community.  Visitors should be the ones to adjust to the culture of the people living in the places that they visit, and not the other way around.
  3. Be conscious of your footprint on a daily basis.  One’s footprint is measured by how much resources are used and the volume of trash produced. When visiting another place a visitor should be more mindful of his/her  choices, behaviour and actions.  Reducing the use of plastic and avoiding the use of styrofoam or disposable packing materials will contribute significantly to environmental conservation.  Disposing of trash responsibly and following “Garbage in / Garbage out” policy is the hallmark of a responsible traveler.
  4. Learn to appreciate community-based initiatives.  Studies show that social enterprise is the most appropriate business model for rural destinations.  It provides an opportunity for many of the marginalized members of the community to be part of tourism development.  Having well organized and capacitated communities should be the goal of all local governments, so that the concept of “inclusive growth” can truly be realized. Purchasing products of social enterprises will   help provide an economic incentive for the protection of natural and cultural assets.
  5. Willingly pay a premium for high value experiences.  There is  value for  being in outstanding natural  landscapes and seascapes, and having the privilege to witness unique and authenic traditions and culture.  Destinations that have management regimes need to  earn from tourist visitations for them to be sustained over many years. Nature or heritage is not free.  There is also value in being given the right to experience a place,  especially if only a limited number of people are allowed to do so. High value/low volume strategy is  best applied for protected areas and pristine environments because it  provides an opportunity to generate income from tourism without having to compromise the integrity of the natural assets.

So,  the next time you travel, seriously consider these tips.  They will  put more meaning to your vacations.

This article was originally published in Chen Reyes-Mencias’ blog, QuantumLight.
Photos are by Chen Reyes-Mencias

Why plan for tourism?

In many places in the world, tourism simply is an industry that sprouted from the need to derive economic benefit through the promotion of an attraction. In most cases, the growth was not based on any plan or clear direction. Tourism just happened to these communities.

A few basic knowledge about tourism
Unlike most economic activities where resources are harvested, goods and services are manufactured and products are shipped out to consumers, in tourism people flow to the consumable rather than the consumable flowing to them. The destination plus the amenities and services form the tourism product.

Large or small, near or far, willing or unwilling, tourism happens in communities everywhere in the world. It happens whenever an outsider comes to buy gas, shops, eats, spends the night or stays for whatever reason . They come, they stay awhile, they interact with community residents, they look around, check out the attractions, they may or may not spend money, and in the end, they leave having some kind of impression in the minds about the place they just visited.

Tourism is a double-edged sword. It can result to both negative and positive impacts. People tend to look at the economic impact and only discover its negative effects on the culture and environment years later.

Given that tourism happens in communities, the people should then ask themselves if they want tourism to happen to them (and result to uncontrolled development) or for it to happen for them.
In most cases tourism simply happens to a community, and this results to negative impacts that are often irreversible. Uncontrollable development is a result of lack or absence of a plan that provides the proper guidance for development. Places like Boracay, Puerto Galera and Baguio are classic examples of places where tourism simply happened. It may be true that economic benefit are being derived from the tourism industry, but the environmental degradation and cultural erosion cannot be ignored. These represent the price that was paid for tourism development.

Major advantages of planning

  1. Understanding the need of the stakeholders in terms of skills and knowledge to manage sustainable tourism projects
  2. Understanding of the elements of a successful tourism program
  3. Understanding of the benefits, as well as the potential negative impacts of tourism and consequently come up with measures to control or mitigate these impacts
  4. Stronger partnership with other groups
  5. Sound decisions pertaining to tourism development are made by an informed leadership
  6. Promotes a sense of pride and cooperation among stakeholders as they work together towards sustainable development
  7. Identifying major and minor players and the roles of each stakeholder in the success of the industry
  8. Identification of tourism resource potential and gaps
  9. Greater local acceptance and support
  10. Determining the philosophy and the guiding principles of sustainable tourism

If the choice is for tourism to happen for the community, then there is a need to plan. Planning provides a mechanism of control by the stakeholders and the people of the community. It serves as a blueprint for success and is built upon a consensus for a common goal.

This article was originally published in Chen Reyes-Mencias’ blog, Tourism and Environment
All photos are by Chen Reyes-Mencias