Monday, June 30, 2008

Socially Responsible Tourism Anyone?

If we follow the “money trail” of our current tourism industry, chances are the locals living in our lucrative travel destinations receive very little – if at all – of the dollars that we shell out. Is it high time for something better?

By: Vanessa Uy

“Take only photographs and leave only footprints.” This enlightened adage which became increasingly popular during the 1990’s was meant as a guide in preserving our ecotourism sites for the next generation. But as ecotourism grew into a full blown lucrative industry a few years on, it seems as if everyone forgot to inject the concept of fiscal sensibility in managing this upstart form of tourism. After all, the “dollar value” of our ecotourism destinations can only be maintained if it’s ecological balance is preserved, and this won’t come for free. Especially if what we are trying to preserve is for all intents and purposes a tradable commodity.

But still there is often overlooked problem – the locals. Over the years, steps are already taken to preserve a typical ecotourism site’s biodiversity. Yet the locals are denied the benefits of the revenue generated by their local community. Some are even forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands every time a rich land owner buys large tracks of pristine wilderness to be developed into an ecotourism site which – sad to say – winds up looking like the Checkpoint on the 38th Parallel of the North-South Korean border. Some parts of the world, the ecotourism industry is for all intents and purposes still unregulated. Like here in the Philippines with the example I cited before where the facilities ending up like a hardened military base made to withstand a multi-megaton nuclear explosion rather than an inviting ecotourism site.

Though there are some schemes already existing where governments oversee that the money generated by ecotourism are appropriately allotted so that the locals can benefit from it. Like scholarships and training for those who want to serve as tourist guides and park rangers. Providing environmentally friendly cottage industry concessions for the locals like developing their own herbal and folk medicine / apothecary. And also for adequately budgeted scientific studies to accurately measure the impact of ecotourism. So that adequate measures for protecting the sites can be legislated. Sadly though, enlightened measures like these are the exception -–rather than the rule when it comes to the ecotourism industry.