On June 16, Batanes was chosen as the new addition to the International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO) of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)—the first INSTO member in the Philippines, and thus, a milestone for the country.
According to the UNWTO website accessed on July 12, INSTO is a network of tourism observatories monitoring the economic, environmental, and social impact of tourism at the destination level. The UNWTO is the UN agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable, and universally accessible tourism.
Complying with all the prerequisites set by the UNWTO Sustainable Development of Tourism Department in the application to be part of INSTO was done largely through the efforts of the UP Diliman (UPD)-hosted Batanes Tourism and Hospitality Monitoring Center (BTHMC).
The BTHMC is a UPD multidisciplinary research group that leads the monitoring of tourism sustainability in the Batanes Islands. The group is composed of researchers from the UPD Asian Institute of Tourism (AIT), UPD College of Home Economics Department of Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Management (DHRIM), and the UPD College of Engineering Institute of Civil Engineering (ICE). A technical working group (TWG) of tourism stakeholders in Batanes also works closely with the UPD research group. The BTHMC also partnered with the Batanes State College and the Provincial Government of Batanes in conducting research activities.
The researchers are: Edieser DL. Dela Santa, PhD, a professor of tourism and former dean of the AIT; Mary Anne Ramos-Tumanan, PhD, a professor of hotel, restaurant, and institution management at the DHRIM; Augustus C. Resurreccion, PhD, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the ICE; Ma. Princess Jill V. Meneses, a former faculty member of the DHRIM; and BTHMC research associate and independent program management consultant Allerine Isles, an AIT alumna.
Of all the tourist spots in the Philippines, why did the team choose Batanes?
Batanes was chosen because it possesses an extensive ecosystem, is home to indigenous peoples, is protected by Republic Act No. 8991 or the Batanes Protected Area Act of 2000, and is inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Tentative List, among other reasons.
In a virtual meeting with UNWTO, Dela Santa said, “The population is only 18,831 but tourist arrivals are three times this population number. It is a very special place for Filipinos particularly the indigenous peoples that consider Batanes their home. They are the Ivatans. It is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List and recognized locally as a protected landscape and seascape by virtue of Republic Act 8991. This is a place of strong emotional appeal that shapes the Ivatan’s pride of place. These are all the reasons why we looked at Batanes.”
UPDate Online viewed the virtual meeting on the YouTube channel of the UNWTO on July 12.
Dela Santa explained that together with their partner stakeholders, the BTHMC vision for Batanes is for “the island to be a well-preserved natural and cultural environment that supports sustainable tourism, promotes heritage conservation, and social equity through healthy collaboration and data from the observatory.”
BTHMC beginnings. The BTHMC virtually began in 2019 but was only physically set up in 2021.
Dela Santa said their vision statement, formulated in 2019, stemmed from initial talks with Ramos-Tumanan in 2018.
In recounting the BTHMC’s inception and journey, Dela Santa said, “Activities started in earnest in 2019 with stakeholders mapping, obtaining ethics clearance, and obtaining endorsements from local and national officials. Together with our friends from Batanes, particularly the provincial government, a TWG was created and this was supported by an executive order issued by the governor herself [Gov. Marilou Cayco]. During the pandemic when we could not travel to Batanes, virtual TWG meetings were held that allowed us to maintain contact with the people in Batanes.”
He said there were numerous engagements with stakeholders “from the very beginning, during the pandemic, and afterward.”
In between meetings, they were able to do research projects that allowed the team to identify priority areas and issues for research.
INSTO application. The BTHMC made attempts to apply to INSTO with an initial submission in March 2020, which was foiled because of strict requirements.
At the 15th National Convention on Statistics from 3 to 5 Oct. 2022 in Manila, the BTHMC presented its bid to become an INSTO member.
In her presentation, Ramos-Tumanan said the bid for a slot at INSTO is “The quest for Batanes to be the first-ever destination [in the Philippines] under the auspices of UNWTO to periodically monitor the impacts of tourism on the province and the Ivatans.”
Fortunately, their final submission last May 8 was viewed positively.
Then, on June 16, the BTHMC received its letter of acceptance from Dirk Glaesser, PhD, the director of the UNWTO Sustainable Development of Tourism Department.
Batanes’s key emergent issues. With Batanes recognized as an INSTO member, the BTHMC is required to monitor the 11 key issue areas within the next three years: governance, resident satisfaction, destination economic benefits, employment and human resources, tourism seasonality, energy management, solid waste management, wastewater management, water management, climate change, and accessibility.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, “For any destination, measurement is important as it provides a better understanding of where a destination stands and where it wants to go. For a destination like the Batanes Islands, such measurement work is even more relevant as it will help to preserve the uniqueness of the islands and build a responsible sector that benefits the local people and visitors alike.”
In the virtual meeting with UNWTO, Ramos-Tumanan said the series of consultations with the Batanes stakeholders led them to identify key emergent sustainability issues in Batanes.
She described the issues as combinatorial aspects of socio-cultural, physical, economic, environmental, and resilience.
“[There is the] issue on waste management, and then another on road congestion, balance of cultural and environmental policy issues, on food security, [on] residences converted into tourism facilities, just to name a few,” Ramos-Tumanan said.
From the key emergent issues identified by the key stakeholders, the team lets the stakeholders prioritize which of these issues should be monitored by the observatory within the INSTO network.
“After identifying the priority key areas, we let them identify or determine the indicators that the observatory will monitor,” Ramos-Tumanan said.
The BTHMC identified six key issues to be monitored from 2022 to 2023. These are governance, cultural integrity, solid waste management, biodiversity, economic benefits, and resident satisfaction.
Due to the uniqueness of Batanes’ features, the stakeholders identified cultural integrity and biodiversity as two additional indicators that the observatory must monitor.
“Having the stakeholders themselves assess the needs and the conditions of the sustainability issues which these conditions are structured fosters… a sense of ownership by the Ivatans of this entire process, which is very critical as we look at the long-term sustainability of the province,” Ramos-Tumanan said.
Ramos-Tumanan also underscored in the meeting that as the BTHMC continues its monitoring of the indicators, it would also continue to strengthen its partnership with the Ivatans.
“Suffice to say, we are also looking at partnering with private, public, and non-profit organizations outside Batanes in order to advance our objectives to monitor the impact of sustainable tourism in the province,” she added.
The team, together with UPD Chancellor Edgardo Carlo L. Vistan II, received their INSTO recognition at the 35th Joint Meeting of the Regional Commission for East Asia and the Pacific and the Commission for South Asia at Phnom Penh in Cambodia, where they also participated in adopting the Phnom Penh Declaration on the International Code for the Protection of Tourists.