Saturday, May 24, 2014

PH hosts UNWTO-ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change

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The UNWTO - ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change was held on 19 – 20 May 2014 in Legazpi City, Province of Albay. It was the third global event after concluding a series of international meetings which included the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) National Tourism Organizations (NTO) Meeting and the 26th United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Joint Meeting of the Commission for East Asia and the Pacific (CAP) and Commission for South Asia (CSA).

The event convened world leaders and experts who presented and shared their views to create solutions and address the challenge of climate change and its effects on tourism. The two-day conference on tourism and climate change was divided into three sessions: Policy and National Strategies on Tourism and Climate Change, Opportunities on Sustainable Tourism for Building a Low Carbon Development, and Stimulating Consumer Behavior on Innovative Climate Change and Mitigation and Adaptation Actions.

Hon. Joey Salceda, Governor of the Province of Albay, gave the welcome remarks to the delegates. It was followed by the opening address of UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai who said that tourism has become a central global phenomenon in the 21st century. Secretary General Rifai noted that 1.87 billion people travelled internationally in 2013, generating 1.4 trillion US dollars worth of income, one out of 11 jobs in the world, and 9 percent of the world GDP. In 2013, the Philippines recorded a 9.56 percent growth in international arrivals with almost 4.7 million visitors from 4.3 million, while tourism receipts grew by 15.1 percent or equal to 4.4 billion US dollars (186 billion pesos).

“We are confident that tourism is a very important part of the future of the Philippines. This is an industry that not only creates jobs and generates income, it is an industry that celebrates everything that is beautiful in life, everything that we respect, everything that we cherish. I would dare to say that it is not only more fun in the Philippines, we even feel better in the Philippines. We are better people when we travel, and we definitely are ourselves more fun in the Philippines,” Secretary General Rifai concluded.

President Benigno Aquino III, who delivered the keynote address, emphasized that sustainable tourism is essential to inclusive growth. “Clearly, as long as tourism can be pursued in a sustainable manner, then it is certainly one of the best sectors to focus on--and one of the shortest and most efficient paths to inclusive growth,” the chief executive said.

President Aquino further cited how tourism in Donsol through the presence of whale sharks (butanding) has improved the livelihood in the municipality. Donsol grew from a sixth class to a first class municipality in less than five years. A sixth class municipality earns an annual income of less than 15 million pesos, while a first class municipality earns at least 55 million pesos.

“This growth has been felt across the board, most especially by the fishermen, whose income has been bumped up from P300 a day to more than a P1000 a day, depending on the season. On top of all this, the butanding has become an icon of Philippine tourism; they are even featured on the backs of our hundred peso bills. The success of Donsol is one that we want to replicate in many other potential tourist spots,” President Aquino added.

The government’s immediate response is to plan ahead and reduce the impact of the effects of climate change on the tourist destinations. It has included climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as disaster risk reduction and management, among the major considerations for future development. The goal is to mainstream climate change adaptation with local, sectoral, and national plans in order to guide the development of tourist destinations and tourism activities per locality.

At the end of the two-day conference, UNWTO and ASEAN approved the Legazpi Declaration on Tourism’s Response to Climate Change. Its adoption is expected to speed up initiatives at the country, regional, and global levels.

“We are very happy to host these international events, which yield very important agreements and protocols to harmonize, strengthen, and facilitate tourism development as countries and as neighbors. We thank the UNWTO and ASEAN organizers and participants for this wonderful opportunity to serve and share the world-renowned Filipino hospitality. We are likewise honored that the President has graced this culminating event, proof positive of his continuing commitment to making tourism a hallmark of his social contract with the people. We are therefore more inspired to work harder together towards achieving our economic and social goals, as well as contributing what we can to the best practices of the international community,” Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. said.

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