UNWTO cites Ongpin resort’s sustainable-tourism program

6/22/2017 | By: Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo

BALESIN Island, Quezon—Officials of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) were all praises for the sustainable-tourism program of Balesin Island Club, the flagship project of business tycoon Roberto V. Ongpin’s Alphaland Corp.

In a news conference on Thursday, UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said, when he was told that the island-resort would feature different international tourism destinations, “I thought, ‘Would I be seeing a Disneyland?’ But not at all. There’s so much creativity here and might I say, ‘Filipino-ness’ in workmanship, which has a common theme.”

Also, he said, “The money spent here, stays here. All the furniture is made here, and all the food is produced here…. People here are employed. While I cannot say how the Philippines is doing exactly in terms of sustainable tourism development compared to other countries, this [Balesin] is a good example of it.” Rifai, along with his spouse, Nisrin Shawwa, and other executives of the UNWTO, as well as officials of the Department of Tourism (DOT), led by Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo, went on a tour of Balesin as a side activity to the ongoing Sixth International Conference on Tourism Statistics, which ends today, Friday.

A marker was unveiled at the island-resort’s clubhouse on Thursday morning, commemorating the UNWTO’s International Year of Sustainable Development this year, with Alphaland as a “proud partner…to pursue the common vision of a more sustainable world”.

Sustainable tourism, as per the UNWTO, is “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”

At the news conference, Alphaland COO Michael M. Asperin cited the resort club airport’s 1.5-kilometer runway, which doubles as a rainwater catchment. It is constructed at a certain angle that will enable falling rainwater to wash off into water reservoirs and ponds. “We are able to collect 200 million liters of rainwater, that can sustain the island six to eight months even if no rain comes,” he stressed.

He added that Balesin also grows much of its own food, like vegetables and fruits, such as dragon fruit, grapes “most of which are put in our guest rooms”. The resort club is, likewise, into agribusiness and aquaculture, raising sea bass and mud crabs, and growing herbs, vegetables and ducks. These projects, he said, could be replicated by other barangays in Quezon. “Our goal is to empower Polillo, and replicating it in other areas in Quezon,” Asperin stressed. Polillo is a third- class municipality in Quezon and covers Balesin Island.

In a project brief, Alphaland said the Balesin Sustainable Development Program “is a pillar project [of the company] that aims to maximize the rich natural resources of the island and promote tourism by means of sustainability. It has successfully and progressively taken steps into becoming a self-sustaining tourist attraction, a rare sight to behold in the Philippines, without compromising its prestige and exclusivity.” In her speech before unveiling the marker at Balesin’s clubhouse, Teo expressed the DOT’s “sincerest gratitude to Alphaland Corp. for its invaluable contribution to our efforts to promote sustainable tourism. This program…is a testament to the growing consciousness among the members of the private sector to give prime importance to the protection of our environment and rhe empowerment of local communities while we conduct business.

“Projects such as this humanize the tourism industry, or in other words, bring back the ‘people factor’in the equation of tourism development to ensure that guests and host communities learn and benefit from each other’s interaction, thus, enriching the whole tourism experience,” she emphasized.

She challenged the business sector to scale up its efforts to “provide more decent jobs, introduce sustainable practices and technologies, and promote intercultural understanding through corporate social responsibility”. She expressed hope that with the implementation of Balesin’s sustainable-tourism program, “more companies would be inspired to take up this challenge”.

Other UNWTO officials touring Balesin are Juan Pablo Nieto, vice minister for tourism of Guatemala; Ambassador Dho Young-Shim, chair man of the UNWTO’s Sustainable Tourism for Eliminating Poverty Foundation; Mohamed Abdu Zaid Mustafa Mohamed, tourism minister of Sudan; Walter Mzembi, tourism minister of Zimbabwe; Igde Pitana, deputy tourism minister of Indonesia; Xu Jing, UNWTO director for Asia Pacific and his spouse, Huijun Mo; Carlos Vogeler, UNWTO executive director; and Mario Hardy, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

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