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From Where We Sit

Creating sustainable communities as responsible travelers

Michael C. Gallego Michael C. Gallego

I used to spend my youth enjoying summertime in our hometown in Bolinao, Pangasinan. These include helping out in the family sari-sari store while honing my Ilocano with the locals, harvesting chicken and quail eggs in the hatchery, and watching my veterinarian uncles help sows give birth. While Mamang prepared binunggey (sticky rice cooked in wood-fired bamboo) and ripe mangoes for merienda, I visited the woods with Papang to look for bamboo fit for a sumpak (improvised blowgun) or cadang-cadang (stilt). Our much-awaited moment was when we traveled along the then dusty and unpaved roads to the undiscovered beaches of Patar. A month’s worth of immersion was not enough to discover what Bolinao really had to offer.

As years passed, I saw more and more tourists flocking to Bolinao. Some of them would buy from our sari-sari store but would then inexplicably throw their waste anywhere but into a nearby garbage bin. There were even times when I was driving behind vans, which were presumably carrying bakasyunistas (tourists on holiday) on their way to the now-famous Patar, and would be flabbergasted when people threw candy wrappers, fruit peelings and used plastics or cans, among their litter, out of their van windows and onto my windshield. Yet, these people would lament – after taking a dip in Bolinao’s warm waters, sunbathing on the sand, and singing the night away – the unsightly litter left on the beach, resort, or camping grounds.

Now I wonder: is there really such a thing as a responsible traveler or tourist?

Famous website design and online marketing consultant Veronica Morrison wrote, travelers are those who immerse themselves in the places they visit, while tourists are those who scratch the surface of the places they visit.

I believe that traveling should still be about discovering new places and meeting new people. When we travel responsibly, we should leave a positive impact and a positive image for the other visitors. It is about respect for the destinations we visit, including their people, communities, culture and environment. Morrison defined responsible travel as “being socially and culturally aware when you travel, understanding your effect on the places you visit and trying to make that effect a positive one.” 

Responsible travel is likewise defined in the 2002 Capetown Declaration as travel that:

1. Minimizes negative economic, environmental and social impacts;

2. Generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;

3. Involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;

4. Makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;

5. Provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues; and

6. Provides access for physically challenged people; and is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.

Given that Patar offers of one of the most magnificently golden sunsets and a picture-perfect paradise for stargazers, family guests often join us in our excursions. During those travels, and being mindful of becoming responsible travelers, we share with our guests the following rules:

We observe the ‘leave no trace’ ethics. Clean-as-you-go (CLAYGO) is followed anywhere and every time. We perform our share of segregating utensils, leftovers, or empty bottles. We also limit the use of scarce water and electricity resources. We don’t smoke inside rooms and halls. By sourcing our food and groceries locally, we travel light and reduce our carbon footprint.

We trash our trash. We throw filled-up room bins in the main garbage bin outside. And we supply new and empty bin liners throughout our stay.

We immerse our guests. Beyond the relaxing privacy, we engage our guests to immerse themselves, support the local economy and visit the many areas around Bolinao: the 400-year-old St James the Great Parish Church, the Bolinao lighthouse and nearby rock formations, waterfalls and caves, the floating restaurant at Balingasay River, the giant clam fields of the UP Marine Science Institute, and the salt farms of neighboring Anda and Dasol.
Sometimes we are greeted by fisher folk who ply their daily catch or the locals with their binunggeys, patupats (sweetened sticky rice wrapped in coconut leaves) and other local delicacies.

Local businesses and people have a responsibility to travelers as well – to treat them with respect, to apply suitable safety and security standards, not to take advantage of their cultural ignorance, not to be rude, and not rip them off. 

Our world today is characterized by integration and connectedness. Low fares make traveling more accessible for savvy travelers with extra money to spend. Couple those with improved infrastructure and tourism facilities and together they paint a brighter prospect for the tourism industry. The challenge, however, is sustaining our local communities for future generations. Hence, today’s business is abuzz with discussions on sustainability practices and integrated reporting – ensuring that we manage our economic, environmental and social impact.
I believe, however, that creating sustainable communities begins with each of us. It begins when, in our journeys, we become responsible travelers. And I hope that in my next visit to Bolinao, I’ll cross paths with you there.

Mhycke C. Gallego (email: is advisory partner at Punongbayan & Araullo (P&A Grant Thornton). Today, P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 partners and more than 850 staff members.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 26 July 2017