WWF-Philippines’ Green Wanderer travel fair: the good and the areas for improvement

Tourism is the biggest industry in the world, providing 10% of global GDP and 1 out of 10 jobs in 2016. It’s also big on GHG emissions, producing 5% of global GHG. Considering that tourism contributed 8.6% of the Philippines’ GDP in 2016 AND the Philippines is one of the countries most affected by climate change, WWF-Philippines’ Green Wanderer travel fair held last August 11-13, 2017 at Bonifacio High Street Central Square Mall couldn’t have come at a better time. And yes, this also means that this blog post is very, very late.

I attended the second day specifically for the Sustainability Forum (yes, I woke up at 7am on a Saturday) and the talk by Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort . The panelists for the Sustainability Forum were Joel Palma (WWF-Philippines President and CEO), Josephine Alcantara-Cruz (mayor of Donsol, Sorsogon), Anton Diaz (founder of the travel blog Our Awesome Planet), Deanne Bibat (Executive Producer of the travel show Biyahe ni Drew), and Alexa Cancio and Nikki Huang (WWF-Philippines National Youth Council members).

My favorite part of the forum was Mayor Jo sharing Donsol’s keys to success. During his presentation, Joel Palma said that for sustainable tourism to succeed, it needs visitor satisfaction (no one’s going to come back or recommend it to their friends if they aren’t happy with it), environmental protection (no protection means you’ll lose what tourists come to see in the first place), and benefits to the community. This was seen in Donsol, as Mayor Jo credits their success to their whale shark ecotourism being Community-Based, Legislation, Environmental-friendliness, the Adaptability of the community, and iNnovation (CLEAN). In Donsol, the community receives 85% of the tourism revenue. The definition of “ecotourism stakeholders” was also expanded to include transportation companies and businesses, not just the boat operators, tour guides, and hotels. Legislation means that everything is controlled and institutionalized. In the worlds of Mayor Jo, the LGU is the “taga-puna” (the critic) and “taga-puno” (the one who fills [needs]). Any new tours or activities in Donsol are screened to ensure that they don’t harm the environment. The community was also able to adapt to tourism as an alternative livelihood, with assistance from WW-Philippines. And lastly, innovation means that they never stop learning.

As for the challenges that Donsol faces, Mayor Jo mentioned three: nature, politics, and culture. Whale sharks are migratory so they’re only in Donsol for six months of the year [me: that means they need to develop another product for the off-season]. Politics also factors in because projects implemented by the current administration aren’t always continued by the succeeding administration. As for culture, Donsol is fighting hard to maintain its culture despite the influx of foreign visitors. An example of this is the increasing demand for nightlife spots, but the LGU has consistently shot down those requests in order to keep the town quiet at night.

Anton Diaz shared some tips on how to be a sustainable traveler. Did you know that Oslob, Cebu (where whale sharks are fed) has 10x the tourism income as Donsol? THAT SUCKS. As for why that sucks, let me enumerate everything that’s wrong with Oslob’s model:

  1. Fed whale sharks stay in Oslob longer than non-fed sharks. One whale shark was seen for 572 days! This is bad because whale sharks are migratory. Staying in one place shrinks the gene pool and hello, inbreeding!
  2. The whale sharks stay at the surface for longer periods of time when they’re not supposed to. This means they get overheated so they dive very deep to cool off then go back to the surface.
  3. Because they stay at the surface for longer periods, the whale sharks are more exposed to boats and they get HURT.

In the same study, scientists observed propeller scars in 47% of the whale sharks they saw.

During the Q&A, Mayor Jo was asked what she would change about Oslob should she become mayor there. Her response? She’d change how tourists interact with the whale sharks. Bravo Ma’am!

Anton Diaz shared his tips on how to become a sustainable traveler. They were:

  1. Fight apathy.
  2. Support social enterprises.
  3. Book sustainable accommodations.
  4. Patronize products from the community.
  5. Experience sustainable adventures.
  6. Choose stand-up paddle tours.
  7. Use electric tricycles.
  8. Eat in local places.
  9. Explore cultural heritage sites.
  10. Fight against animal abuse.

While this list is a good starting point, I feel like it lacks context in some parts. Things are not black and white.

  1. Small businesses and social enterprises are not necessarily sustainable in the same way that big businesses are not inherently unsustainable. A large resort with its own sewage treatment plant is more environmentally responsible than a dozen mom-and-pop inns that discharge their sewage straight into the ocean. A restaurant chain with a firm and fully implemented “no sharks’ fin” policy is more sustainable than a social enterprise that makes sharks fin dumplings.
  2. While vehicles are the largest source of air pollution in the Philippines, using electric tricycles would only contribute towards decreasing pollution if they were charged using renewable energy sources, like solar, wind, and geothermal. If they’re powered using coal, you’re just moving the pollutants from the road to the power plant. Burning coal to produce electricity also produces more CO2 compared to just burning gasoline directly.

As with all things sustainability, one should look at the whole picture and not just one angle.

I was supposed to stay until the afternoon for the talk by Daluyon Resort but since I was lucky enough to get a mini one-on-one interview with Kim, the Marketing Head of Daluyon at their booth, I decided to skip it.

I haven’t been to Daluyon but what Kim showed me was impressive. They’ve invested in an MRF, solar power (not all of their rooms have them, though), an organic vegetable farm, and bicycles available for guests to use. They also offer a bike loan program to the staff, where staffers can avail of an interest-free loan for one year to buy a bike for commuting to work. They’ve also made an effort to promote eco-friendly tours, such as a mangrove tours and nature hikes. Though since I haven’t been there, I don’t know how good their guides are.

Out of all the things that Kim said and promoted about Daluyon, what stood out for me was what she didn’t say: education. Daluyon doesn’t seem to have an environmental education program in place for their guests or staff, which is both a shame and a tremendous opportunity for improvement.

Spent the next two hours looking around the exhibitor booths. I really liked the exhibitor mix, which were mostly homegrown companies offering organic vegetables and sustainable seafood. Of special interest to me was Balangay’s Best.

Balangay’s Best sources their seafood from fishers that participate in Fish Forever – a project by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) , Rare, and the Sustainable Fisheries Group at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) that addresses “overfishing in countries across the globe by empowering thousands of the world’s poorest, most marginalized coastal communities to steward their own sustainable and productive fisheries.”

My biggest disappointment and chief complaint is about the severe lack of actual sustainable travel companies advertising at the fair. The only companies there were El Nido Resorts, Daluyon, and Circle Hostel – places that are already known to practice sustainable tourism.

The travel fair was supposed to introduce me to sustainable tourism companies that I didn’t know of yet. If there were no others to be had in the Philippines, I expected the travel agencies there (who banded together under the Philippine Tour Operators Association, Inc. (PHILTOA)) to suggest options abroad.

No sustainable tourism options here 🙁

Unfortunately, the agents there were unable to recommend anything. They couldn’t assure me that any of the hotels or tours they were offering were handled by responsible companies. If they couldn’t do that, then what was the point of them being there? A travel agency is supposed to cater to what the event is about. If it’s a country-specific event, then you offer tours to that country. If it’s a sustainable tourism event, then you should be offering sustainable accommodations and activities! This fiasco just underscored how much work there is left to do.

Another thing I noticed: all of those who attended Green Wanderer looked well-off. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of the venue (a high-end mall like Central Square) or a reflection of the demographic interested in sustainable travel. If it’s the latter, then we have even MORE work left to do. Sustainable travel should be accessible to everybody, not just those with big bank accounts.

All in all, Green Wanderer was a decent event. My favorite really was the talk by the mayor of Donsol. Still sad I missed the talk by former boss Mariglo Laririt about El Nido Resorts (why was it on Friday?! huhu). Selection of exhibitors could have been better. Since it was supposed to promote sustainable travel, I expected exhibitors to sell items that make sustainable travel possible, like Patagonia and their jackets made from recycled PET bottles and Nalgene and their tough refillable water bottles (no to disposable plastic bottles!). I’m hoping that Green Wanderer will become a regular event with more success stories from the front lines.

The Five-0 Dream comes true, Part 6: getting to Mauna Kea

(YES this is a super late post. WHOOO. My Hawaii trip actually happened in June 2016! If you missed my previous posts, I talked about presenting my research at the International Coral Reef Symposium, exploring Diamond Head, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, exploring the Bishop Museum and eating my way around Honolulu, and exploring Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.)

We woke up slightly early so we could hike down to the the Kīlauea Iki Crater lava lake before we left for Mauna Kea but it turned out to be a drizzly, windy, AND foggy morning so that plan was canceled real quick.

Nope, no hiking to be done in the Kīlauea Iki Crater lava lake.

We did manage to take a few photos of the endangered nene (pronounced “nay-nay”, YES like the song and YES my friends made a ton of corny jokes )  that was hanging out in front of Volcano House.

After that, we went back to Holoholo In to pack our bags and head to Mauna Kea via the long way AKA a scenic drive along the coast. We wanted to get to Mauna Kea just before sunset so the long way, with the postcard-perfect views and casual driving, was perfect.

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The Five-0 Dream comes true, part 4: hopping around Honolulu

(YES this is a super late post. WHOOO. My Hawaii trip actually happened in June 2016! If you missed my previous posts, I talked about presenting my research at the International Coral Reef Symposium, exploring Diamond Head, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, eating my way around Hawai’i, and my souvenirs from the trip.)

One last full day, a huge city, and a ton of places to go to.

I organized my Honolulu city tour around three things: the Bishop Museum, food, and Hawaii Five-0. Although I really wanted to dedicate a day to each of these things – the most popular unofficial Five-0 tour takes you to McGarrett’s house AND gives you the opportunity to possibly meet some of the actors if they’re available (past attendees have met Chi McBride (Lou Grover) and Dennis Chun (Sgt. Duke Lukela)) – I didn’t have that luxury 🙁 Next time!

First stop of the day: Wailana Coffee Shop and their macadamia nut pancakes. Wailana was just down the street from the Ilikai Hotel so it was the perfect spot to have breakfast and start the day. McGarrett was right: they do serve the best pancakes. They’re so soft and fluffy!

Second stop of the day: Liliha Bakery. As I mentioned in great detail in a previous post, I mistakenly thought that the Kuakini St. branch would be closed on a Sunday so I ended up at the much-farther-away Nimitz Branch instead. I (somewhat) didn’t mind because hot damn, Liliha Bakery makes amazing coco puffs. Really. These pastry puffs, with their chocolate cream filling and chantilly cream frosting, are my favorite food from Hawaii, which is saying something since I’m picky with pastries and I loved poke too. I bought a box of six pieces (four coco puffs and two cream puffs, about $4 each), ostensibly to share with my friends, but the puffs were so good that I could have eaten them all by myself.

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The Five-0 Dream comes true, Part 5: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

(YES this is a super late post. WHOOO. My Hawaii trip actually happened in June 2016! If you missed my previous posts, I talked about presenting my research at the International Coral Reef Symposium, exploring Diamond Head, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, eating my way around Hawai’i, and my souvenirs from the trip. And don’t mind the numbering of the posts. There WILL be a part 4 that covers an entire day going around Honolulu, but I managed to write this one first so I decided to post this first.)

We took Hawaiian Airlines’ 5:00 am flight to Hilo because it was the only one I could book using my Delta Skymiles. Used to NAIA’s rule of being at the airport two hours before a domestic flight, we were at the airport by 3:00 am. Too bad Honolulu International Airport and the check-in counters only open at 4:00 am so we had to wait outside on the concrete steps.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and Mauna Kea were our non-negotiables for this island. Pro tip: prepare for cold weather. We think Hawai’i is all endless sunshine and humidity but it does get cold, rainy, and windy, especially as you go up the volcanoes. Wear layers and a woolly hat and bring a rain jacket. Also wear comfortable hiking shoes (no to flip-flops and sandals!) as you’ll be scrambling over areas of uneven terrain in the parks.

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Brewing my best food writing at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

Food writing is definitely NOT one of my strengths. I love to eat good food of course, but eating and casually recommending restaurants to anyone who asks is miles away from actually writing about it. So when The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf teamed up with Writer’s Block Philippines to offer a food writing workshop featuring, of course, the pretty impressive menu of the 26th St. Bistro by the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, I knew I had to go. I’d already attended WBP’s travel writing workshop and I was sure that I was going to have a lot of fun with the food writing workshop, even if it meant being in BGC at 9am on a Saturday.

brew your best food feature poster

CBTL offered ten free slots to to those who submitted the best new articles for the Brew Your Best Year website. The articles had to be about career and finance, fulfillment, health and wellness, and discovery. Because work meant that I didn’t have much time to write, I submitted a modified version of this blog post on the non-academic things I learned in grad school. So happy it still got chosen <3

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Lenten treats at the 26th St. Bistro by The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

Giving up coffee for Lent doesn’t mean that you stop going to the 26th St. Bistro by The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. After all, there’s more to the 26th St. Bistro than just their Original Ice Blended coffee. Can you really stay away from the Bistro’s high ceilings, warm lights, comfy chairs and tables (with power outlets!), and most importantly, OMG-that-looks-so-good-I’ll-order-that food offerings? This season is the perfect time to trawl through the 26th St. Bistro’s seafood selection!

If you want lighter fare, my favorite 26th St. Bistro-exclusive seafood fish is the herb-crusted salmon with lemon risotto and hollandaise sauce. The pan-seared Norwegian salmon is juicy yet flaky, easily separating into thin strips. It rests on a bed of saffron lemon risotto, with the lemon giving the fish an extra zing as you chew them together. The slight saltiness of the salmon’s crumbly herb crust also lightens the hollandaise sauce. While the plating is excellent, be sure to take pictures quickly as the fish is best eaten hot.

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If you want something heavier, the seafood marinara is going to fill your tummy right up. I love a good tomato-based sauce and CBTL’s passes muster. The tomato tang is very evident but not overwhelming. The cheese shavings also counter the tang with some saltiness. They were also pretty generous with the seafood, with seared scallops, squid rings, white fish, and prawns with every fork twirl.

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Aside from these exclusive menu items, the 26th St. Bistro also serves fare from the regular CBTL menu. The smoked salmon and dill cream cheese bagel is here – similar to the classic breakfast set but served with fries instead of coffee. There’s also the sardine and garlic linguine, which has shredded, salty, Spanish-style sardines and crispy roasted garlic. With seafood fare like these, who needs meat?

 

The 26th St. Bistro by The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is located at the Net Lima building, Bonifacio Global City and at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Ortigas.

*This post was written as the culminating exercise of the Brew Your Best Food Feature – a food writing workshop that The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf held in partnership with Writer’s Block Philippines. A separate post on the workshop coming soon!

brew your best food feature poster

Curious and caffeinated at the Coffee Science Center

I love coffee. Let me say that louder for those in the back: I LOVE COFFEE. Coffee is so essential to my daily existence that I have trouble functioning without it (I blame grad school for starting this habit BTW). But despite me loving coffee so much, I actually don’t know that much about it. My greatest coffee-related achievements so far are having my very own French press (thanks again Danes and Mikey!) and blade grinder (yay I can buy whole beans instead of ground!), and knowing that I should let the coffee brew for only 4-5 minutes. So you can imagine my joy when I found out about the Coffee Science Center (coffee and science! My two favorite things!) offered the Coffee Sensory Workshop for beginners.

The Coffee Science Center (CSC)is the result of SGD Coffee’s Coffee Heritage Project – a private initiative they started in 2009 to get Philippine coffee on the map as one of the best coffees in the world. True to its name, the CSC is a place of learning. Students get an in-depth look at coffee from plant to cup, with stops in between to discuss the importance (or not?) of origin, how to tell if a bean is good, how to grind the beans, and other fun stuff nerdy java junkies will love. It’s the kind of information that you can normally only get through years of experience as a coffee buyer, barista, cafe owner, and/or coffee roaster.

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