After weeks of planning, series of discussions, and sheer hard work, we have sent the invites, prepared the workshops and finalized the logistics for the Forum. “Usapang Turismo: El Nido” is real, and it is happening. We spent this week preparing presentation videos, polishing our workshops, following up with invitees to confirm their attendance and brushing up other last minute stuff. I would like to think that this is always the case whenever you organize a big event, but with number of days to the Forum closing in, we are starting to get anxious about things like logistics and whether the targeted invitees would show up. Nonetheless, I believe in what we have put together for the Forum working as a group, and each one of us is excited and really looking forward to 17th and 18th of July.
For the past few weeks, we have also been going around Barangays, looking for people who have been in El Nido long enough to provide a perspective on how it has changed over time. Although everyone agreed that tourism has provided new opportunities for income and employment, they also concurred that it all came with a cost to the natural environment. Hearing their responses made me realize that we had been underestimating their understanding about the changes taking place in El Nido. People are aware of the damage that unchecked tourism has been causing on the environment, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their home. However, lack of cross-sectoral cooperation, knowledge of right resources, and an overarching vision for the cause, have prevented their willingness to take concrete action. This is where we thought we could step in. Through the Forum, we want to implant a vision for El Nido among the people, connect them to the right resources, and foster a collaborative atmosphere between different sectors.
The Forum brings together individuals and organizations, businesses and non-profits, Barangay leaders and local government officials under one roof to discuss the future of tourism in El Nido. From high ranking officials with legislative power to ordinary, common citizens, every one gets to voice their ideas and propose solutions to the problems facing tourism in El Nido. We have tried to make this possible by ensuring a healthy representation from each sector and designing workshops and their deliverables in a way to facilitate opportunities for cross-sectoral collaboration. The idea is to create a platform that would allow these varying individuals and institutions to work together and come up with solutions to the existing problems around tourism in the form of tangible action points. I think this is also what distinguishes us from past Forums, because we are not feeding people principles and telling them what to do, but rather nudging them down the path towards sustainability, and letting them decide for themselves what is right for the common good. Since the action points would be coming from the people, for the people, i it would not only motivate them to take ownership of their home, but also ensure the long term continuity of our work.
The tagline for our Forum is “Turismong El Nido, saan patutungo?” which translates to “Where is the tourism in El Nido headed?” As much as the slogan aims to jolt people into thinking about the unsustainable path that tourism in El Nido is currently pursuing, it is also a visioning exercise for people to reflect upon what it would be like if tourism was done the right way. It has been only eight weeks that we have been here, but even in that short span of time, the beauty of El Nido and the culture and hospitality of its people have made me feel right at home. So, even as an outsider, the prospect of all of this being ruined in the years to come deeply saddens me. I could only imagine the pain it would cause people who have been here their entire lives. Therefore, as much as I hope that this Forum produces tangible solutions to steer El Nido’s tourism industry in the right direction, I also hope to see it being first of many instances where the people of El Nido take the reins in their hands and work together for a sustainable future of El Nido.
Showroop Pokhrel is a rising sophomore, double majoring in Math and Economics at Georgetown University. He intends to concentrate in the field of Environmental Economics. He is also a big fan of Chemistry and is currently pursuing a research on metal-oxo clusters, evaluating their potential as MRI contrast agents. Showroop is a passionate advocate for environmental conservation and has led many collaborated as well independent projects ranging from campaigning for use of bio-degradable bags, to large scale tree plantation to reaching out to schools, conducting awareness programs in his country Nepal. One of his projects called “A sapling a student, a future tree for the future generation” in 2014, garnered the attention of then President of Nepal. He is excited to learn more about the community based tourism and current management policies for sustainable implementation of eco-tourism projects in El Nido and wishes to conduct a similar study in Nepal in the near future. Showroop loves traveling, cooking and teaching.