A GLOBAL tourism expert called out the United States and other European countries for allowing their government bureaucracies and politicians to dictate the issuances of travel bans, thus, penalizing many destinations, especially in the developing world.
At the same time, Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), also urged these countries to “have more courage” and not bow down to terrorists, who want to curtail people’s freedom to travel, and share in each other’s cultures.
At an interview with reporters in Palawan recently, Rifai said while the US and several countries in Europe have signed on to the global tourism organization’s resolution on issuing location-specific and time-bound travel advisories, in most cases they do not follow it.
“The resolution was agreed on by all 193 countries of the world [who are members of the UN]. Anyone who accepts the resolution should be held accountable. Unfortunately, some countries, like the United States or Europe, do not observe closely the resolution,” he observed.
The resolution, adopted in Senegal during the UNWTO General Assembly from November 28 to December 2, 2005, provides: “Public announcements of travel threats and risks that are contained in advisories should, whenever possible, be specific about the geographical location of the problems and include maps and indications of distance.”
The resolution adds that the travel advisories “should be under constant review and in each case should specify the date of their publication”. Rifai acknowledged the need for such travel advisories, as every country has a right “to protect its citizens when there’s trouble somewhere in the world. But when you do that, you should do it in an intelligent and responsible way. You should be geographically, location-specific: ‘You can go to this city, not to other city…’ and should be time-specific. Unfortunately, there are some bureaucracies in some ministries that put travel advisories on their web site and forget about it. Six months after the situation has changed, the advisory is still there. It’s still legally binding.”
He said many countries fail to implement the resolution mainly due to politics. “The US, like every country in Europe, they listen but when they go back to their constituency, they worry about political ramifications. The politicians there are scared; if something happens, ‘how could I face my own people?’ I’m sorry, but it [terrorist attacks] can happen anywhere, even in your own country.”
Rifai called on global political leaders “to have more courage. You can’t punish the victim and reward the aggressor by imposing travel bans. These terrorists do no want people to travel. They want us to hate each other. Travel brings us together. What agenda are we serving, and who’s agenda are we serving [by imposing these travel bans and issuing travel advisories].”
The Philippines became the subject of travel advisories from the US, the United Kingdom,
Japan and Australia when elements of the Abu Sayyaf, a local jihadist group, attacked a remote village in Bohol. In Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, attacks by a local Islamist group with ties to jihadists on military troops have forced President Duterte to declare martial law in the entire southern island-region of Mindanao.
These, along with unconfirmed reports of Islamist jihadists infiltrating Palawan, pushed the Department of Tourism (DOT) to get Rifai and other UNWTO officials to visit provincial destinations, and declare the Philippines as a safe place to travel. The UNWTO group also visited Balesin Island Club in Quezon, to recognize its sustainable tourism project.
The UNWTO officials visited the 8.2-kilometer Puerto Princesa Underground River, a subterranean river declared as a Unesco World Heritage Site. It also won an accolade in 2011 as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
They, along with executives of the DOT led by Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo, also visited the indigenous community of Sitio Sabang, Barangay Cabayugan, which lives near the underground river. The group planted mangrove seedlings and interacted with the residents who make their living as tour guides, souvenir craftsmen and boatmen. At a news conference, Teo revealed that the DOT will earmark P5 million to train various tourism stakeholders in the Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan region.
The DOT, she added, has worked closely with the Palawan provincial government and the Palawan Tourism Council “to compile best practices that we could share and replicate to the rest of the country”, because of the province’s stellar record in tourism governance. “In fact, many benchmarking programs by local governments and other organizations are being done in this province,” she noted.
The UNWTO officials were in the Philippines to attend the UNWTO International Conference on Tourism Statistics at the Marriot Ballroom in Pasay City. (See, “UNWTO Conference concludes with Manila ‘call for action’,” in the BusinessMirror, June 27, 2017.)