First ecotourism travel mart features ASEAN’s natural heritage
2022 Miss Earth Queens visiting the ASEAN biodiversity booth of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity
Ecotourism experts, entrepreneurs, travel professionals, and environment protection advocates from 25 nations gather at the five-day International Ecotourism Travel Mart (IETM) in Cavite, Philippines. The IETM runs up to 2 April 2023 at the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) and is open to the public.
The ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), one of the major partners in the conduct of the IETM, showcases the rich and unique natural heritage of the ASEAN through an interactive exhibit featuring the ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs). The AHPs are notable protected areas in the region recognised for their unique biological and ecological diversity that best represent the region. Eighty per cent of the 55 AHPs are prime ecotourism destinations in the world; some of which are also declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The exhibition also features biodiversity-based products produced by local communities in some AHPs. These include eco-print tie-dye scarves made by the women of Timbang Jaya village of Indonesia, traditional snacks, Lampung coffee, Jore coffee from Gunung Leuser National Park, stingless bee pure honey, and Bandek krimer or ginger milk tea from Sumatra, Indonesia. The manufacturing of these products is supported by a joint sustainable livelihood initiative by the ACB and the German Development Bank or KfW called the ACB Small Grants Programme.
Biodiversity and tourism sectors unite
The last two years of lockdowns and quarantine due to COVID-19 has forced us to re-examine our relationship with nature. “It was like the universe pressed humanity’s pause button and gave the earth a chance to breathe and heal itself. Most of us have witnessed in person or through social media, how wild animals have started to reappear and thrive in areas where they haven’t been seen for a long while. But then, it seems like this was centuries ago now. Vaccines and newer, less fatal COVID variants have rendered most of us immune and allowed us to physically interact once again, and increase our mobility. We are now experiencing the so-called “revenge travel,” said Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim, executive director of the ACB.
Lim emphasised that although this is the ideal time to promote ecotourism, people need to be more mindful of how we manage our tourism and tourism-related activities to prevent irreversibly harming the main attractions—our wildlife and their natural habitats.
“Blessed with natural wonders and unique wildlife, the ASEAN countries can indeed work together to make ecotourism one of the region’s main drivers of growth. And if implemented properly, ecotourism can contribute towards reducing the rate of biodiversity loss and become one of the region’s demonstrable examples of nature-positive industries, contributing immensely to achieving other benefits such as climate resiliency, health and wellness, and food and water security,” Lim added.
The ACB has been initiating efforts to mainstream biodiversity in regional tourism strategies. Its support to AHPs includes promoting biodiversity-based enterprises such as ecotourism, which not only generates livelihoods but enhances environmental awareness and contributes to management effectiveness, as well. “As reflected in this year’s ASEAN theme, ASEAN Matters: the epicentrum of growth, the ACB stands ready to work with the tourism industry in the region in building a shared value that will transform ASEAN into a global hub for sustainable nature tourism,” said Lim. With the intent of working closely with the tourism sector to promote sustainable and responsible ecotourism practices, the ACB supported the IETM.
Philippines’ Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco addressed the IETM opening ceremony with a call for sharing of best practices and continued learning to achieve tourism sustainability, while the country presents its ecotourism offerings to a world that seeks out responsible travel.
The IETM is organised by the ISST and the Asian Ecotourism Network, with support from the Municipality of Silang, Cavite, the ACB, Department of Tourism, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc., Tourism Promotions Board, and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture.
This event has three major components, the Travel Mart, the Ecotourism Forum, and the Marketplace.
Travel Mart exhibitors consist of travel agencies and eco-friendly hotels and resorts. The Marketplace is where attendees can buy local and sustainable products. It features the livelihood component, where recycling efforts of participating companies are shown. Moreover, the DTI is bringing in all the regional groups to present their best products that are in accordance with environmental programmes.
The highlight of the event is the 2-day in-depth interactive forum, chaired by the ACB that focuses on Embracing Authentic Ecotourism, where participants can expand their knowledge in sustainability and ecotourism practices. Joining the festivities are the Miss Earth 2022 queens as the newest additions to the ASEAN’s voices of biodiversity as part of the “We Are ASEAN Biodiversity” campaign.