The world's largest tourism fair has opened in Berlin. Over 11,000 participants from 180 countries are taking part in ITB Berlin that runs until March 9. Asia is there en masse. Thailand, Vietnam, India and the Philippines are just some of the Asian countries hoping to attract even more tourists. One major theme this year is the environment and how to protect it better. As case in point is the the Island Garden City of Samal in the Philippines, which is promoting itself as an eco-tourist resort
Samal in the Philippines is promoting eco-tourism
The beaches of the island of Samal are an open invitation to dive and snorkel. Only a few metres from the shore, just beneath the surface of the water there are colourful coral reefs, bright starfishes, transparent sea anemones and a whole variety of fish.
The authorities have created a special department for conserving all this marine life. Amado Asoi, who is responsible for fisheries, explains: “Most tourists come to see the marine base resources -- of they are depleted, then tourism in Samal won’t be possible.”
Fishing is very common on the island. And large commercial fishing firms never miss the chance to catch even the smallest creature with their nets. So the island’s rich marine life is fast disappearing.
This why the island authorities have introduced a licensing system.
"We have 120,000 hectares of fishing waters and 118 kilometres of coastal area,” said Asoi.
“But we have more fishermen than fish. In our licensing concept, they should pay a small amount and take responsibility to protect our resources.”
Fishing main livelihood
While the large fishing firms are busy snapping up all the marine life, local fishermen have no access to the deep waters. Yet, fishing is the main source of livelihood for the island’s poor indigenous people.
Ted Bonpin, the director of the development organisation Care in the Philippines, complains that the local indigenous population is not getting a fair share of the country’s resources.
"Why is it that 20 percent of the population own 80 percent of the resources?” he asks. “When we look at the Philippines budget, more is spent on defence than on education. There is more money going to Manila than to the rest of the country. We need a better distribution of resources. The indigenous peoples must live in dignity. They need an income. It is a dream.”
Promoting cultural heritage
In order to realize this dream, Samal is beginning to promote the local population’s cultural heritage. Once a year, the island organises a cultural festival, where several groups meet to perform traditional dance and music, explains the city administrator Samal Cleto Bravo Gales.
"We want to make Samal into an eco-tourism hub but not by the destroying natural appearance of the place. There are places appropriate for family outings, for water sports or outdoor adventurers,” Gales said.
“That’s what we are trying to tell our indigenous peoples. Although cultural heritage is very attractive to tourists, we tell our people not to become the object of tourism.”
Tourists should adapt
Cleto Bravo Gales doesn’t want to transform the island for the tourists but to show them the island’s natural beauty and its ancient traditions: “If you look closely,” he says, “resort tourism has had very limited benefits for local communities.”
“In most cases, the guests are made to experience something artificial. If guests want to experience something different they should be made to experience something new -- the true life of the communities.”
Cleto Bravo Gales Jr hopes the project will help boost tourism on Samal, helping it to become one of the world’s first-class destinations.