Destination Check: Current State of Tourism Sustainability in the Philippines

Destination Check Philippines: Tourism experts share their thoughts on the current state of tourism sustainability – this time we travel to the Philippines to hear from Susan Santos de Cárdenas, board member of the Asian Ecotourism Network.

The sustainability of destinations is emerging as a major topic in 2017, having become a reputation and competitiveness concern for city and destination developers, managers and marketers around the world.

Destination Philippines: How sustainable?

Susan Santos de Cárdenas: The Philippines’ Department of Tourism (DOT) has a history in groundbreaking “Ecotourism Development” with established guidelines since 1999. Its National Ecotourism Strategy had been taken up and gradually implemented. Its “Tourism Act” of 2010 was among the first in the region to “recognize sustainable tourism development as integral to the national socioeconomic development…and promote a tourism industry that is ecologically sustainable, responsible, participatory, culturally sensitive, economically viable, and ethically and socially equitable for local communities.”

However, all these buzz words, while great in principle, aren’t yet practiced by all. They were never fully implemented by destinations – the local government units (LGU), public and private stakeholders and the grassroots, and to date, only a handful really follow these values.

During my 20+ years of experience in the Philippine tourism industry, new destinations emerged, resorts, hotels, MICE venues have opened and grown but with no regard for sustainability; worse, with global warming, the unsustainable development only added to the country’s vulnerability in terms of climate change. This is especially worrying for the country’s tourism industry, which is focused mostly on islands and coastal areas.

The DOT should start to engage in promoting sustainability and climate mitigation as a hallmark for both public and private stakeholders in destinations and host communities. Also, it should promote tourism investment that strives to adopt environmentally sound technologies, climate resilience and sustainability measures, to include renewable sources and efficient use of energy and water, ecological solid waste management (possibly, waste to energy technologies), organic farming to provide livelihood to local communities and sustainable supply and purchasing.

The Philippine tourism industry should promote projects which are compatible with the cultural identity of the local population’s way of life. Furthermore, the tourism sector should always make sure it acts in accordance with the cultural heritage, and respect the cultural integrity of tourism destinations. This might be accomplished by defining codes of conduct for the industry and hence providing investors with a checklist for sustainable tourism projects – from green construction, design and landscape, to keeping with Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) laws and guidelines.

The DOT should support and help seek funding for local NGOs to enable them to engage in a sustainable tourism development in cooperation with other agencies, such as the DENR (which provides the baseline of the destinations’ ecological inventories and status) and the National Commission for Culture and Arts to help the industry in education programs, which encourage regional culture conservation and promotion.

With close coordination and cooperation of its government agencies, the Philippine tourism industry can make a difference in terms of sustainability, social responsibility and resilience.

On the other hand, local and regional governments should “translate” national laws on sustainable tourism in regulations, fee standards, licensing, etc. that fit the local and regional context and respond to the social and environmental efforts to sustain tourism in the host community or province.

In the context of sustainable destination development, LGUs play an important role, not least due to their strong influence regarding decisions linked to conservation of natural resources. The challenge: public and private stakeholders need to be willing to support sustainable development initiatives and cooperate in the carrying out of sustainable tourism strategies and stewardship guidelines. In the Philippines, LGUs have the mandate to craft their own tourism plans, which set out the priorities over the medium to long term future, and intend to contribute to community well–being.

Only with a comprehensive education and capacity building among the cross-sectors of the industry, in cooperation with all the agencies mentioned, can the Philippines start to achieve sustainability in its tourism industry, and with that, can result in quality and higher yield markets, giving equal opportunity for the future generations.

Read more about tourism, sustainability and the Philippines in the interview with Susan Santos de Cárdenas by the Sustainability Leaders Project.

An earlier version of this post was published on

Featured image: Isla Bulungan, Coron, Palawan by Al Linsangan III

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