Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - mtan@in­ MICHAEL L. TAN

The gov­ern­ment’s pend­ing tem­po­rary clo­sure of Bo­ra­cay, I pre­fer the term “in­ten­sive care,” and threats of sim­i­lar ac­tion for other pop­u­lar lo­cal tourist des­ti­na­tions, has only em­pha­sized the need for bet­ter long-term plan­ning in tourism. The “rise and fall” pat­tern of tourism has be­come all too fa­mil­iar and what bet­ter ex­am­ple to use than Bo­ra­cay?

Movies and celebri­ties seem to fig­ure all the time when it comes to the world dis­cov­er­ing a new tourist des­ti­na­tion—think of “Apoc­a­lypse Now” filmed in Pagsan­jan, or Caramoan Is­land in Ca­marines Sur be­ing used for var­i­ous coun­tries’ “Sur­vivor” se­ries.

Bo­ra­cay first caught in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion through the 1970 movie “Too Late the Hero” with Michael Caine in the lead role. Pris­tine Bo­ra­cay was used to de­pict a prison is­land. Gina Lol­lo­b­rigida, one of Imelda Mar­cos’ jet set friends, vis­ited the Philip­pines in 1975 to take pho­tographs for cof­fee-ta­ble books, which in­cluded the con­tro­ver­sial “Stone Age” Tasa­day tribe as well as Bo­ra­cay, seem­ingly as iso­lated as the Tasa­day.

Bo­ra­cay’s at­trac­tions be­gan to draw in more tourists, mainly as part of an Asian back­pack­ers tri­an­gle, with sun wor­ship­pers mov­ing from Chi­ang Mai in Thai­land to Sa­gada and Bo­ra­cay in the Philip­pines and to Bali in In­done­sia.

Iron­i­cally, for Filipinos, Bo­ra­cay was still too dis­tant and in­ac­ces­si­ble and were con­tent with the puka neck­laces from the is­land.

In­ter­est did pick up as higher-end es­tab­lish­ments came in. By the mid-1990s there were golf cour­ses and large re­sorts. The last five years or so, re­ports be­gan to ap­pear ev­ery peak sea­son of the wa­ters be­com­ing con­tam­i­nated, un­til Pres­i­dent Duterte hurled a less pro­fane but still deadly ep­i­thet—“cesspool” (this is one time I would have pre­ferred he used Filipino; ku­beta would have been even “dead­lier”). As Bo­ra­cay’s in­ten­sive care ap­proaches, peo­ple ask what will hap­pen with plans for a huge Ma­cau casino. Pres­i­dent Duterte said last April 9 that there will be no casino, and is talk­ing about land re­form for the is­land.


So when I was asked to give wel­come re­marks for a UP Dil­i­man work­shop on in­clu­sive tourism, my mind was set on Bo­ra­cay. I was glad to hear that the work­shop, or­ga­nized to­gether with the Uni­ver­sity of Strath­clyde in Glas­gow, Scot­land, in­volved not just our Asian In­sti­tute of Tourism (AIT) but also the Col­lege of So­cial Sciences and Phi­los­o­phy, the School of Ur­ban and Re­gional Plan­ning, the School of La­bor and In­dus­trial Re­la­tions, and the Col­lege of So­cial Work and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment.

I thought that was such a rad­i­cal move for­ward, ex­pand­ing the stake­hold­ers and play­ers. In tourism, the term “stake­holder” usu­ally refers only to the trav­el­ers and the tourism in­dus­try. Gov­ern­ment is ac­knowl­edged more of­ten in some vague sup­port role rather than as reg­u­la­tors.

The academe is al­most never seen as a stake­holder for tourism ex­cept to pro­duce ho­tel and restau­rant man­age­ment grad­u­ates, with large ho­tels as the main clients.

In Thai­land, the re­cent clo­sure and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of beaches came in part be­cause of strong lob­by­ing by uni­ver­sity-based marine sci­en­tists, who fi­nally got gov­ern­ment’s at­ten­tion with facts and fig­ures about the en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, and how this could de­stroy the coun­try’s coastal tourism in the long run.

I would have liked to hear more voices from our nat­u­ral sci­en­tists in UP to give a more in­clu­sive view of tourism but I am glad our so­cial clus­ter is tak­ing the lead, in par­tic­u­lar our AIT.

In my open­ing re­marks, I men­tioned a re­cent visit to Lake Cali­raya with a friend, who had a lake­side res­i­dence. The place is be­gin­ning to at­tract tourists, and Ayala Corp. is start­ing to of­fer real es­tate there.

Af­ter the visit, I did some in­ter­net re­search and got back to my friend: “Did you know it was the Amer­i­cans who built Lake Cali­raya?” She was sur­prised, not even know­ing the lake was ar­ti­fi­cial. I plied her with other his­tor­i­cal vi­gnettes, from its con­struc­tion in the 1930s by the Amer­i­cans to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity, cre­at­ing a recre­ational lake by seed­ing it with bass for fish­ing, to the de­cline of Cali­raya with in­for­mal set­tlers and now, a re­vival.

My friend laughed hear­ing all this and com­mented only a UP pro­fes­sor would dig up such in­for­ma­tion.

In­deed, tourism suf­fers from a lack of his­tor­i­cal aware­ness. Tour guides think of his­tory as dates and names of great men (rarely women) and some­thing to get over with: a quick look at an old church be­fore shop­ping and the beach. Have you heard of the joke of a tour guide rat­tling off his spiel about the church be­ing re­ally old, built be­fore the Spa­niards?

No won­der cul­tural sites are de­mol­ished to give way to tourist and com­mer­cial es­tab­lish­ments.

Res­i­dents and com­mu­ni­ties

This is where I thought again of in­clu­sive tourism in terms of stake­hold­ers, in par­tic­u­lar the way res­i­dents them­selves are of­ten ex­cluded from tourism plan­ning.

In the case of Bo­ra­cay, I learned re­cently that the Atta, the orig­i­nal res­i­dents of the is­land, have a cer­tifi­cate of an­ces­tral do­main ti­tle cov­er­ing only 2.1 hectares, the small­est in the Philip­pines. Adding in­sult to in­jury, the Atta have been us­ing only about 1 hectare, with large busi­nesses sur­round­ing them.

The or­ga­niz­ers of this in­clu­sive tourism work­shop did as­sure me they were go­ing to look at all is­sues: hu­man rights, em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, poverty, cul­ture. And ar­chi­tec­ture. Which left me some­what per­plexed, un­til I looked up more in­for­ma­tion on in­clu­sive tourism on the in­ter­net and it turns out the term is used most widely in re­la­tion to im­prov­ing ac­cess to tourism for par­tic­u­lar trav­el­ers.

I’m all for im­prov­ing ac­cess for trav­el­ers, hav­ing trav­eled with the el­derly, with young chil­dren, with pets, or, with all of the above. Ar­chi­tec­ture is im­por­tant. Don’t just think of ramps for peo­ple on wheel­chairs. What about par­ents with the baby’s trol­ley and a bag filled with di­a­pers and toys?

But there’s more. As a med­i­cal an­thro­pol­o­gist, I pre­pare health pro­fes­sion­als and health es­tab­lish­ments to be on the alert for cul­tur­ally-based needs from room as­sign­ments (no num­ber 4 for eth­nic Chi­nese) to di­ets (are staff aware of ha­lal, veg­e­tar­ian, ve­gan?). The health es­tab­lish­ments are pro­gress­ing but tourist es­tab­lish­ments, which have far more clients than hos­pi­tals, are no­to­ri­ously neg­li­gent when it comes to these con­cerns.

That’s not all. In­clu­sive tourism is more than ac­cess to the phys­i­cal and the tan­gi­ble. There are also po­ten­tial tourists who may not push through with a trip be­cause they feel dis­crim­i­nated against, sim­ply be­cause of their eth­nic­ity or skin color.

I do worry though that in our cap­i­tal­ist world, “in­clu­sive” can be­come short­hand for ex­pand­ing the mar­ket reach, for ex­am­ple get­ting more of the “gray” dol­lar (re­tired peo­ple) or the “pink” peso (les­bian and gay trav­el­ers).

Per­haps we aca­demics can be more crit­i­cal in talk­ing about in­clu­sive tourism in its widest sense.

On my way to my next ap­point­ment af­ter the in­clu­sive tourism work­shop, I thought of one of the Strath­clyde pro­fes­sors men­tion­ing “slum tourism”—bring­ing tourists into slum ar­eas—and com­ment­ing how it is a form of com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion, trans­form­ing slum dwellers into ob­jects for dis­play.

In­clu­sive tourism must start with iden­ti­fy­ing who’s ex­cluded not just from tourism but by tourism.


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