SBMA to host international ecotourism meet

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has welcomed the scheduled staging here of the Subic Ecotourism Festival, which will bring together a powerhouse cast of international experts in the field of ecotourism to discuss global best practices.

SBMA Administrator Wilma Eisma said the festival is slated on May 29 to June 1 at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center under the aegis of the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) and the Department of Tourism.

“We’re very much delighted in hosting this event, because we take pride in the Subic Bay Freeport being one of the few remaining places with very high biodiversity in the country today,” Eisma told the media in a press statement.

“We will be happy to share with the participants in this forum the challenges and successes that we have experienced in the field of ecotourism since Subic was established as a free port in 1992,” she added.

According to ISST president Mina Gabor, the event will be biggest of its kind in the country as it will bring together the leaders of the Global Ecotourism Network (GEN) and its regional subsidiary, the Asian Ecotourism Network (AEN).

“The event will be a rare opportunity for delegates to learn from and network with the best practitioners in the industry,” said Gabor, a former Tourism Secretary who pushed ecotourism during her tenure, making it a byword in the industry years later.

“Given the fact that the Philippines’ tourism industry is driven largely by its natural attractions, it is important to balance economic benefit, conservation and respect for local communities which the GEN board members are greatly recognized for,” she added.

The festival has been scheduled here in line with the declaration by the United Nations World Tourism Organization of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

The event will gather together ecotourism experts like Glenn Jampoland Tony Charters, GEN chair and vice-chair respectively, and general board members Robert Holmes of Australia, Hitesh Mehta of Kenya, Masaru Takayama of Japan, Nabil Tarazi of Jordan, and Albert Teo of Malaysia.

Other foreign speakers are Lizzie Corke of Conservation Ecology Center Australia, Paul Niederer of ASSOB International, Tan Thi Su of Sapa O’Chau (Vietnam), Imti az Muqbil of Travel Impact Newswire, Kaetwa Muangasame of Mahidol University International College, Greg Duffel of Bond Asian Ventures Limited, Ary Suhandi of Indeco n Indonesia, and Randy Durband of Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

Meanwhile, local speakers will include DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau director Teresa Mundita Lim, National Commission on Culture and the Arts-School of Living Traditions executive director Rico Pableo Jr., National Commission on Indigenous Peoples socioeconomic and special affairs director Marie Grace Pascua, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity executive director Roberto Oliva, Cebu provincial tourism officer Boboi Costas, Philippine Airlines SVP for operations Ismael Augusto Gozon, and El Nido Resorts head of sustainability Mariglo Laririt .

Gabor said the event is designed for government policy-makers, infrastructure development executives, tourism, travel and hospitality professionals, and faculty and students. Festival participants also conduct a case study for the development of an ecotourism project in the Subic Bay Freeport area.

The Subic Bay Freeport, which sits on a large portion of the Subic Forest and Watershed Reserve, is touted to be one of the few places in the Philippines with high biodiversity. It has a total of 745 plant species belonging to 429 genera and 122 families, and a total of 122 wildlife vertebrates from 99 genera and 57 families.

The Subic Freeport is also home to several rare animals that include seven bird species like the Philippine Fairy Bluebird (Irena cyanogaster), two mammal species like the Striped Shrew Rat (Chrotomys minbdorensis), one reptile specie, and two amphibian species. — MHIKE R. CIGARAL