July 12, 2017 | By Showroop Pokhrel
With local businesses, capital investments, and job market all depending on the tourism industry, the municipality of El Nido exemplifies how tourism could become a central instrument for regional development. But this economic prosperity comes with a cost. The booming tourism industry has taken a toll on the natural environment, wildlife, heritage and cultural values of El Nido, to the point of threatening their very existence. We have seen people going too far to make more profits, without realizing that their negative environmental impact has a feedback effect on the tourism industry. The root of the problem is the lack of strong, rigid local governance. With this problem in mind, our primary aim has been to instill a sense of ownership in El Nido among the people and establish the idea of sustainable tourism; that people, profit, and the environment are not mutually exclusive. As we march towards our second final project for the summer, the pressure is on to deliver and make this summer meaningful to the people who have invested their time and effort.
As we prepare for the sustainability summit, I’ve reflected on what our work here means to me. I applied for an internship specifically at El Nido Resorts because it reminds me of my home — Nepal. Like El Nido, Nepal is rich in its natural endowment and has a significant potential for growth in its tourism sector. Yet problems like lack of proper management regimes and deprived sense of ownership among people have plagued the industry. Kathmandu, the capital city, has seven UNESCO world heritage sites. Sadly, it is also the seventh most polluted city in the world. Mount Everest is overcrowded as people wait in queues to climb at certain places. The funds that the budget office allocates for tourism development never fully reach their destinations due to the lack of transparency and accountability among government units. These are the sort of problems El Nido faces. By helping El Nido tackle these problems, I am not only be contributing my part to the common good, but learning about what approaches work, what solutions are feasible, and getting a taste of policy making from the lens of tourism. I eventually hope to expand on what I have learned here to tackle the challenges we face in Nepal.
Although the political, environmental, and topographical differences between the two countries might not make my knowledge and experiences fully transferable, I hope to capitalize upon the similarities that these countries share as a platform to build upon my initiatives. Programs and policies to encourage people to adopt practices of sustainable tourism, waste management policies, ways to move towards more community based tourism, finding a balance between learning new cultures and promoting one’s own: these solutions depend more on people’s attitude than demographics. In Economics, we say that the best outcome is achieved if people in a group do what is best for themselves. My group is excited to see what solutions the people of El Nido come up with for themselves during the summit. Hopefully, it would be a framework on which I can build upon.