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Pushing the frontiers of Ecotourism in the Philippines

Posted: 2014-10-27
Category: News

Global Network Week: A Management Course on Ecotourism for students of the Global Network for Advanced Management


We cannot disregard the negative impact of tourism on the environment. The relationship of tourism and the environment is delicate as tourism tends to diminish the resources in the environment that it depends on to thrive. However, tourism is not necessarily a threat to the environment: tourism can even serve as an instrument for environmental protection because it can be extremely effective in increasing awareness on sustainability. As defined by the International Ecotourism Strategy (TIES), ecotourism is "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of the local people."

As one of the forerunners of ecotourism, the W. SyCip Graduate School of Business and the Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) conducted a weeklong management course on ecotourism for students of the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM) last 13-17 October 2014. The course was part of Global Network Week, wherein weeklong mini courses all over the world provide an opportunity for students within the network to pursue intensive study on selected topics. This ecotourism course was designed to provide students the chance to discuss successful business models, environmental ethics, and the proper management of scarce environmental resources. The course is comprised of a one-day classroom session at the AIM, and two on-site visits to Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farms in Angat, Bulacan and Bontoc Inn Bed and Breakfsat Batangas (BBBB) in Bagalangit, Mabini.


On Monday and Tuesday, 13-14 October 2014, the students were taken to the GK Enchanted Farm Village –  a 34-hectare platform of social business incubation and a mentorship hub. The farm organizes tours in which its entrepreneurs present their products and share good business practices. Among the businesses featured are plush toy manufacturing, duck farming, mushroom growing facility, tea-growing business and ice-cream making facility. The farm itself has become an ecotourism attraction, offering a global internship program for adventurous, socially-oriented interns from top ranking local and international schools.

Mr. Antonio Meloto (Founder and Chairman, Gawad Kalinga) discussed the 2nd Phase of the project which is to build sustainable enterprises to help end the vicious cycle of poverty. It targets the development of 25 Enchanted Farm Village Universities nationwide by 2024, and to generate 500,000 social and farmer entrepreneurs by 2016. He stressed that GK is going beyond Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), by tapping companies for Corporate Social Investment (CSI), which channels marketing funds. He was able to attract more than 500 major corporations to partner with GK by donating lands developed into homes for more than a million families, schools and water systems. The donor corporations were given branding rights such as the establishment of Procter and Gamble GK Village, Hyundai Asia Resources Center, Unilever Vitality Village, Colgate Smile Village, which triggers a healthy business competition. GK residents working for the farm were introduced to share the best practices of their livelihood and success stories of their journey out of poverty.

Prof. Gaston D. Ortigas (Core Faculty, Asian Institute of Management) discussed the social enterprise model of GK by presenting the case of Human Nature, Inc. and Bayani Brew. The GK community model for the Enchanted Farms is that the villages are set up so that they are close enough for the children to go to school and families to minimize cost of transportation and food. AIM's objective is to work with GK in developing social business development curriculum. The school is in a 5-year mission with the following components: (1) develop learning materials in partnership with stakeholders of GK and design other learning experiences related to GK experiences; (2) help build a knowledge and management platform and system; (3) build a mentoring network and platform that will support incubator and urban business accelerator. Ortigas also mentioned that community entrepreneurs should be innovative enough to challenge new business models.

On Wednesday, 15 October 2014, the students underwent intensive classroom sessions that facilitated discussions on various ecotourism case studies in the Philippines. The day began with the Department of Tourism (DOT) representative Ms. Marie T. Recarro (Project Officer, Office of Tourism Planning, Research and Information Management) presenting the Philippines' National Tourism Strategy and Action Plan 2013-2022 –  "provides a roadmap to the country's quest to gain a competitive chunk of the ecotourism market." Through this, the country will be able to conserve its biodiversity and help local communities have another source of income without resorting to unsustainable natural resource extraction activities.

The presentation of Recarro was complemented by the case studies discussed by Prof. Fernando Y. Roxas (Executive Director, AIM-Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism) and Prof. Benjamin C. Bagadion, Jr. (Core Faculty, Asian Institute of Management). Roxas discussed the case study Ecotourism is a triple bottom line strategy for ASEAN. The case highlighted the appropriate strategies and business models necessary to achieve the desired outcomes of ecotourism – community development, environmental sustainability, preservation of heritage and culture, and recognition of the values of ecosystem services. On the other hand, Bagadion discussed the case study on Puerto Prinsesa Subterranean River National Park

Lastly, Mr. Vincent S. Perez (Chairman, El Nido Resorts) presented on how El Nido Resorts practice environmental sustainability in its operations as well as the core principles it employs in the resort. Perez underscored that there is now a growing appreciation for ecotourism in the Philippines. The national government, non-government organizations, private sector, and the communities are working together to achieve true ecotourism. Ecotourism is not just about taking tourists out to see nature. Environmental protection and visitors' experience are now being given emphasis.

On Thursday and Friday, 16-17 October 2014, the students were taken to Bontoc Inn Bed and Breakfast Batangas (BBBB) in Bagalangit, Mabini. The area is a popular diving destination, especially for Manila divers. The BBBB is owned by Romeo and Ann Trono and was inspired by Ann's Ifugao mountain province roots. The resort gives spectacular views not only of the South China Sea but also of small mountains to the east.

Mr. Romeo Trono gave a talk about his involvement in the creation of an Ecotourism Plan for the Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary in the Sulu Sea, at the south western tip of the Philippines, about 1,000 km southwest of Manila and some 40 km north of Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia. Trono is the former Executive Director of Conservation International (CI), Philippines, and Country Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). He has also worked at the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). In a bilateral agreement signed in 1996, the Philippine and Malaysian governments established the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA), the first and only trans-frontier protected area for marine turtles in the world. The Turtle Islands is the only major natural nesting ground for green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in all of Southeast Asia. These nine islands (six in the Philippines and three in Malaysia) lie adjacent to the international treaty limits that separate the two countries. He discussed the many issues facing not only conservation, but also ecotourism development in the Turtle Islands.

The students were also allowed to go snorkelling and scuba diving at the resort's beach front. Those who went diving also got to see one of the most popular dive sites in the area, Cathedral Rock, which is large rock formation that looks like a roofless ampitheatre. Former President Fidel V. Ramos also planted a cross underwater at 60-feet deep in 1983 to signify protection for the area. Later in the evening, Dr. Patricia Garza Garnier led a follow-up group activity on finding human happiness.


Undeniably, the private sector occupies a critical role in today's tourism industry. There are instances wherein the private sector takes the initiative in creating special tourism products and concepts that only they can operate properly and safely. In this contemporary period, there is a need to engage in socially responsible undertakings – pursuing not only business goals, but also environmental protection, tourists' experience, and community benefit.


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