Remarks by USAID/Philippines Acting Mission Director Reed Aeschliman at the UNWTO and ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change

Monday, May 19, 2014
Development Partner’s Perspective on Tourism and Climate Change

[As Prepared]

Our partners in Philippine Government
Distinguished members of this panel
Members of the diplomatic community
Delegates to the UNWTO and ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change

Good morning Anita and my fellow panelists. On behalf of U.S. Embassy’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID/Philippines), it is my honor to be here with all of you this morning.

Thank you to the UNWTO and the Department of Tourism (DOT) for inviting me to this conference to talk about climate change response from an international perspective, specifically how we can build sustainable tourist destinations that are resilient to environmental threats and climate change impacts. I commend the organizers for engaging development partners, public and private sectors to make economic growth more broad-based and inclusive in the Philippines. Allow me to share USAID’s perspective as a development partner that recognizes the need for protecting the country’s environmental and natural resources in order to promote an agenda of economic growth.

Tourism brings significant gains to the Philippine economy

Having lived in the Philippines for several years, I can personally attest that indeed, “IT IS MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES!” The country is an excellent host for international and local tourists alike.

The Philippines is home to some of the world’s richest biodiversity. The country’s waters are warm and display various shades of blue and green. The climate is sunny and mild, and the coastal zone is characterized by extensive coral reefs and mangrove forests. The country is home to internationally-acclaimed beaches like Boracay and unique geological formations like the Puerto Princesa Underground River. It is also situated in the Coral Triangle, considered the Amazon of the Seas. Tourism experts have presented the Coral Triangle countries as the next “hot” destinations for marine ecotourism with each country offering their own experiences in nature, adventure and cultural tourism.

In recent years, we have seen greater support for tourism development in the region. After all, tourism brings livelihood to many industries, from agriculture to industry to services, benefiting the unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled. This positions tourism as a strong force to reduce poverty. 

Expenditures and investments are the twin drivers of growth, and when they expand, the economy expands as well, spanning across a broad base of the population– from the farmers who produce the fruit to the manufacturer of the local beverage or to the retailer of the pasalubong, or souvenir products, that we bring home after a trip.

Tourism is affected by and contributes to climate change

While headlines herald tourism for boosting the economy, man-made and natural stresses to the environment paint a grimmer picture.

The Philippines is ranked third in the world as most at risk to climate change, and it is ranked as the highest in the world in terms of vulnerability to tropical cyclones. On average, 20 typhoons hit the country annually and they are expected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming years.

Climate projections of Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration indicate increases in temperature, rainfall, and extreme weather events nationwide that could cause more droughts, flooding, and storm events. These impacts can have far-reaching consequences that include the loss of human life, displacement of people, loss of agricultural productivity, damage to infrastructure, impacts on water security, and reduction in the nation’s gross domestic product.

Also in the country’s coastal areas, problems associated with flooding are expected to increase due to accelerated sea level rise. The latest UN climate report estimates that sea levels will rise between 29 to 98 centimeters by the end of this century, which is more than 50% higher than 2007 projections. Coastal and marine ecosystems that are already suffering from pollution, over‐exploitation and uncontrolled development will be further aggravated.

At the same time, in its own way, tourism also contributes not only to climate change but more so to the continuing decline of the state of the environment. In a 2010 study by Scott, Peeters, and S. Gossling, the tourism sector accounts for an estimated five percent of man-made CO2 emissions. Aviation accounts for 40% of the contribution, car transport accounts for 32% and hotels 21%. The remaining 7% arises from activities for tourists and other forms of transport such as cruise ships.

In Boracay Island, for example, locals are fighting to protect its fragile ecosystem. The growing economy in the island threatens the sustainability of the very beauty that makes it a top tourist destination in the country and in the world. Reports state that at least 15 to 20 percent of the coral reefs in Boracay are in a fragile state due to the stresses of tourism activities, in addition to the poor management and treatment of sewage systems.

These realities, along with the continued poor management, governance and valuation of our natural resources, present significant threats to the country’s future.

USAID continues to support sustainable tourism through PFG

Recognizing the potential of tourism and the challenges it poses to the health of the country’s environment and economy, USAID Philippines’ continues to support sustainable tourism through the “Partnership for Growth (PFG).” PFG is a “whole-of-government” effort that fosters the broad-based and inclusive economic growth needed for the Philippines to join the next generation of emerging markets.

As one of only four PFG countries in the world, a substantial part of USAID’s development programming in the Philippines supports economic growth and institutional reform to mobilize domestic and foreign investment. Through the PFG, the United States Government and the Government of the Philippines share a commitment to working in a true partnership, with joint development decision-making being driven by a disciplined application of rigorous analysis.

With PFG leading our development strategy, we developed the Cities Development Initiative (CDI), which is now a core component of USAID/Philippine’s Country Development Cooperation Strategy. Through CDI, the U.S. Government is working with the Government of the Philippines, the private sector and civil society organizations to put the Philippines on an accelerated growth trajectory that benefits the majority of its population.

CDI rests on the notion that developing competitive second tier cities can drive inclusive growth that improves the welfare of urban populations and people living in surrounding peri-urban and rural areas. CDI also helps mitigate spatial and economic disparities in the Philippines, contributing directly to economic growth that is both broad-based and inclusive.

USAID has increasingly incorporated tourism into its development activities to: Reduce poverty through enterprise development and profit sharing; Provide training to promote higher education and economic opportunity; Advance gender equality by involving women in tourism activities, providing them with access to credit and training, and supporting women-owned businesses.

USAID focuses on promoting sustainable tourism--to manage resources responsibly and maintain “cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity and life support systems,” according to the UNWTO.

Sustainable tourism is a platform for achieving development objectives in several sectors, including economic growth, environmental conservation, gender mainstreaming, education, and good governance. By promoting economic policies that open markets and increase trade of goods and services, we also stimulate travel, whether by air, by sea or by land. We achieve balance by ensuring environmental sustainability and the vitality of the resource base on which tourism depends. Allow me to share a few examples of where USAID is promoting this work.

In Brazil, USAID helped strengthen community forest enterprise management, which led to reduced deforestation in the Amazon. In the Dominican Republic, USAID is reducing the impacts of weather-related disasters in important tourism zones, such as storm surges and beach erosion in coastal areas and landslides and seasonal flooding in watersheds. In the Philippines, new eco-lodges, dive destinations, and other tourism-related businesses are practicing improved fisheries management and protecting important coastal and marine resources.

Over the years, USAID/Philippines has supported programs that unlock the potential of tourism as an economic engine of growth – liberal market access, improved infrastructure, private sector enterprise development, gender equality, education, and entrepreneurship, among others. We are supporting the implementation of the National Tourism Development Plan of 2011-2016 goal of developing an environmentally and socially responsible tourism industry that delivers larger and more widely distributed income and employment opportunities. USAID supports the development of environmentally and socially sustainable tourism, providing infrastructure at existing and developing tourism centers, and applying mitigation measures to safeguard heritage sites and vulnerable groups. This supports USAID’s and the Government of the Philippines’ shared vision that the negative impacts of tourism can be minimized while its positive impact maximized.

For more than three decades, USAID has actively supported ecotourism to achieve biodiversity conservation and sustainable economic growth. In Cebu, for example, USAID’s partnership with the local government and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the 1990s initiated the development of the Olango Bird Sanctuary and several marine sanctuaries as ecotourism destinations. USAID also assisted the provinces of Bicol, Bohol, Palawan, and Negros Oriental, in developing effectively managed marine sanctuaries.

Another example is our successful partnership with WWF-Philippines in supporting the conservation of whale sharks or “Butanding” in Donsol, Sorsogon. We produced studies on the municipal fisheries and coastal habitat, and generated information that guided stakeholders in crafting policy instruments that support fisheries and whale sharks in particular. These conservation efforts were matched with key information on the economic valuation of the whale shark tourism.

Conservation and economic growth were the intertwined goals. And so from a sleepy fishing municipality, Donsol became a vibrant eco-tourism hotspot. In 2004, Time Asia Magazine's 2004 Best of Asia Report selected whale shark watching in Donsol as the best animal encounter. Many other USAID-funded projects emphasized the integration of tourism development into broader objectives of conservation and economic growth.

To help build tourist destinations that are resilient to the impacts of climate change, USAID is actively improving water security, promoting low emissions development, and increasing the ability of communities to adapt to climate change and reduce and manage disaster risks. A concrete example is a small, but promising, success story in Boracay Island. USAID placed a solar charging station for electric tricycles servicing the area. When Typhoon Yolanda struck, it toppled its power lines and shut down power plants. While a major part of the island suffered from power outages, the solar charging station supplied electricity to a number of e-trikes in the area.

USAID continues to explore and support various strategic partnerships with the public and the private sectors towards establishing world-class and sustainable tourism destinations. With the wave of renewed investor confidence in the Philippines and the region, we strive to develop new tourism and ecotourism hubs that will showcase creative business models and technologies that tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of local communities, while protecting the very environments that nurture them.

Our thrust is to develop and offer sustainable models for tourism development that is truly competitive and inclusive and that balances conservation with development.

Maraming Salamat and Magandang umaga.


Legazpi City
Issuing Country