Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vacation with a heart for the environment

Vacation with a heart for the environment
By Cris Evert Lato
Inquirer Visayas
September 25, 2010

GETTING a fair share of the tourist market is not just about providing the best room service to guests. To Cebuano-owned Be Resort, the developing strategy lies in their recently coined word—voluntourism.

A fusion of two words, volunteerism and tourism, voluntourism seeks to develop a culture of environmental awareness among guests while still allowing them to have fun on their vacation.

“Simply put, this is vacation with the heart for the environment,” said Joy Benedicto, managing director of Be Resort.

Benedicto (not related to this page editor) said voluntourism is the “first of its kind in the country” where the resort comes up with series of events and vacation packages that focus on fun and environmental awareness.

Benedicto said guests could opt to include in their vacation package participating in clean-up drives or mangrove planting or island-hopping to Olango. Guests will receive certificates of participation for their involvement in any of the environmental activities.

The resort has partnered with environmental organization, OceanCare Advocates Inc., in organizing island-hopping to Olango, the cleanup drives and the mangrove planting.

The program was launched on Sept. 11 but even before that, it has attracted both local and foreign guests, who have expressed interest in participating in mangrove planting and clean-up drives.

“We hope to do this on a regular basis because for us, it is also our responsibility to inform our guests that we need to take care of the environment,” said marketing and communications manager, Andrea Lugue.

Experimental learning
The group of Manila and Cebu media practitioners joined the Sept. 11 launch and was treated to a different kind of vacation—wading through waist-deep seawater, enduring the sun’s scorching heat and planting over 2,000 mangrove propagules on Olango Island.

Since the island is also home to the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, the group was privileged to see migratory birds resting on the island before migrating to a warmer country. The group stayed in the observatory deck and used a telescope to see the birds.

Mario Marababol, administrator of OceanCare Advocates, said Olango Island has been part of the East Asian Migration Flyway. Birds from Siberia, Mongolia, Japan and China seek temporary shelter on the island on their way to New Zealand and Australia.

The migration normally starts in September. Peak season, where most birds are found on the island, is November.

“We are very blessed here. The island is the resting ground for rare and endangered species and the number of birds resting on the island has grown every year,” Marababol said.

As of August 2010, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has counted more than 3,000 birds.

Marababol said planting mangroves, participating in cleanup drives and observing the birds are the activities they would like hotel guests to experience to deliver the message that taking care of the environment needs extra and conscious effort.

Marababol, who gave a short talk on proper mangrove planting and biodiversity, said the culture of apathy was still apparent in many people, young and old alike.

Hence, he said, there was a need to further raise the level of awareness through experiental activities such as the voluntourism program initiated by Be Resort.

He said the program ensured low-impact but sustainable development in the lives of the locals living in the area. He cited the example where residents could sell buko to guests while they stay for the day on the island.

“Many government units think of high-impact projects, constructing ala-Disneyland with all the rides but they don’t think that we can do something like this out of eco-tourism. This is eco-tourism—low impact but sustainable,” said Marababol.

Benedicto, who joined the team composed of 10 divers, said they were able to collect a total of 150 kilos of garbage including firecrackers, PVC pipes, tin cans, CFL bulbs, disposable diapers and flashlights, from the sea.

Antonio Aboitiz, president of Philippine Business for Social Progress Visayas, was also one of the volunteer divers.

“All around the country, cleanup drives and mangrove planting are happening. For us in Be Resort, we want to give back to the environment because it provides us with so much. For voluntourism, we are combining vacation and the giving back aspect. We are inviting everyone to be the spark,” she said.