MANILA-- Over a thousand delegates, including tourism ministers and other officials from all over the world, gathered at the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) International Conference on Tourism Statistics which the Philippines is hosting for the first time starting Wednesday.
The conference, which will run from June 21 to 23 at the Marriott Hotel, serves as a venue to discuss policy initiatives on the importance of developing a statistical framework to measure sustainable tourism worldwide.
In her opening remarks, Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Wanda Teo said that the agency is looking forward to do its part in turning tourism into an environmentally and socially responsible industry.
She said to achieve this, countries must give a high value for the protection of the environment, conservation and enrichment of culture and improving the lives of local communities.
The DOT chief, meanwhile, expressed excitement in showcasing the Philippines' top destinations to foreign attendees who will be joining familiarization tours as proof that the country is indeed safe.
"The Department of Tourism sees this forum as an opportunity not only to showcase the beauty of the country but more importantly, to inform the global community that the Philippines remains a safe and secure destination for tourists," Teo said.
Meanwhile, Senate Pres. Aquilino Pimentel III, who was guest speaker, assured attendees that despite reports of terror threats in Mindanao, he is confident that the crisis would soon be resolved and tourism would bounce back.
"The situation is Mindanao that led to the declaration of martial law is a temporary situation. I am confident that once this crisis is over we will have peace in that region that will result to more tourists visiting Southern Philippines," Pimentel, who hails from Mindanao, said.
He also expressed support for developing an international statistical framework for sustainable tourism noting that there is a need for a scientific approach to study and address the challenges presently confronting the tourism industry.
"Tourism is not only an economic activity. It is also social and environmental dimensions. Hence, it is essential that the formulation of policy in tourism be evidence-based," he added.
In a press conference, UNWTO Director for Asia and the Pacific Xu Jing welcomed the progress made in Philippine tourism and transport infrastructure such as the NAIA Expressway and other airport renovations.
"I'm very happy that this event has been held (here). That certainly conveys a message, not only the Philippines being one of the prime destinations of the world but this shows an indication that Philippines continues to be a destination of continuous improvement," Xu said.
For his part, UNWTO Executive Director Mario Favillla said the fact that the conference is being held in the Philippines sends out a "political message" in terms of fears over the country's safety.
Favilla, meanwhile, urged countries to issue fair travel advisories as it is part of their obligation to ensure that they do not isolate a country already suffering from problems.
"We see some countries that have been very much affected by certain events and travel advisories that came after that. Countries affected should receive international support and not be isolated from a problem they have suffered. We don't want countries to be punished twice. International communities should join hands to support that country to overcome them," Favilla said.
He acknowledged that while it was important to consider the safety of their own citizens, they should not "throw a blanket over the whole country."
"It (advisory) should not throw a blanket over the whole country but to be very clear where the problems are. The travel advisories should be time-bound and not issued forever. Clearly indicate when it was issued and how long. The countries affected should be consulted about it. That consultation would eventually lead to more precise, more correct travel advice," he added.
He further said that if countries follow this, there will be "a much better situation" in the affected country's tourism industry.
Source: Philippines News Agency