UNWTO officials visit ‘self-sustaining’ Balesin Island

POLILLO, Quezon-- After the first day of UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) International Conference on Tourism Statistics, top tourism officials and guests on Thursday visited the Balesin Island Club to see first-hand how one of the Philippine's top destinations practice tourism sustainability.

Balesin Island Club is a 500-hectare resort which is only a 20-minute plane ride from Manila. The members-only haven has seven themed villages with numerous villas and suites including Balesin, Bali, Phuket, Mykonos, St. Tropez, Costa del Sol and Toscana inspired by designs from different parts of the world.

It also has its own aquaculture (crabs, saltwater and fresh fish and ducks) and agribusiness (organic herb farm, a vineyard, a fruit and vegetable farm) and a rain harvesting system with its airport runway serving as a water collector which reduces fresh water consumption on the island.

Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Wanda Teo, UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Director for Asia and the Pacific Xu Jing, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) CEO Mario Hardy and several other delegates arrived at Balesin Island Club at around 8:30 a.m. were warmly welcomed by staff of the resort.

Before the familiarization tour took place, officials of the Balesin Island Club led by its CEO Mike Asperin, Teo and Rifai unveiled a special marker to commemorate UNWTO's International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017.

Balesin Island Club, in a statement, committed to have its own sustainable tourism program to maximize its natural resources and take steps to become a self-sustaining tourist attraction.

This program hopes to further empower local constituents living on the island and its neighboring communities in the near future by being inclusive and providing them with more avenues to learn from the island's aquaculture and agribusiness so that they on their own will have an established livelihood by farming in the largely undeveloped land mass of Balesin, the statement said.

At present, Balesin Island Club said locals have already started benefiting from locally-made wood carvings now being sold at Balesin's Ifugao Village.

Teo, in her speech, said that the marker stood as a testament of the growing consciousness among the members of the private sector to give prime importance to local communities while we conduct business.

Projects such as this humanize the tourism industry or bring back the people-factor to ensure that guests and host communities learn and benefit from each other's interaction thus enriching the whole tourism experience. It is our hope that with this sustainable tourism program, more companies will be inspired to take on the challenge, Teo said.

Asperin also presented a check worth 10,000 euros to the UNWTO in support of the same celebration.

In a press conference, Teo said Balesin Island Club was chosen along with Palawan as places to visit as it is a destination where sustainable tourism has been practiced.

They (Balesin Island Club staff) protect the environment, they preserve culture and heritage and they give employment to communities, she said.

Asperin, for his part, discussed how special Balesin Island Club is in such a way that it is self-sustaining.

Its airport runway, he said, was designed to act like a water-catcher so that when it rains, the potable water goes into the island's different canals.

We keep about 210,000 cubic liters of water which can sustain the island for six to eight months, Asperin said.

We're really self-sustaining in a sense we sustain whatever needs we have here and we grow all these aquaculture (and agribusiness) to sustain tourism, he added.

He also expressed hope that by yearend, the resort would be able to empower more people in the island to replicate this.

By yearend, we hope to empower people in Polillio to do the same. We would like to multiply this in other areas of Quezon as well, Asperin said.

Rifai, meanwhile, also expressed hope that sustainable tourism destinations would set a good example to others.

The fact that the Philippines hosted this conference is a sign that the Philippines would probably one of the first countries to want to measure itself. My feeling is that you're doing okay, Rifai said.

He welcomed the Philippines' successful hosting of the UNWTO conference and looked forward to the crafting of a measurement tool or framework to be able to measure tourism sustainability better.

Source: Philippines News Agency