Puerto Princesa Underground River win in New 7 Wonders leads to minitourism boom
Puerto Princesa City, Philippines: A week after the popular online and SMS text message vote contest released the preliminary list of seven as one of the worlds top choices for nature's New Seven Wonders, Philippine Airlines has announced it will increase the size of planes flying there from Airbus A320 to A300-330 series aircraft to meet reservation demands of the destination in Palawan.
Philippine Airlines (PAL) announced the aircraft change to allow for more passengers per flight to the Palawan Island city to meet the increased demand of tourists.
PAL President and COO Jaime Bautista announced that along with promotion campaigns in the country and abroad, PAL will switch to wide-body jets like the Airbus A330 to meet the increased passenger demand of more tourists to be able to get to the city.
"We are getting swamped with tourists, but it’s a welcome problem for us. We love visitors!" Mayor Edward Hagedorn, a recognized leader among local governments for environment programs for nearly two decades is beaming with pride. "We all won - our city, our country all came together, we are profoundly grateful to all for the success," Hagedorn said.
For the Philippines, the win by its entry in a global contest was a welcome development. Millions voted online and millions more in text messages on cell phones.
The Underground River is already a UNESCO world heritage site, a recipient of numbers awards for eco-tourism, and considered by the UN as one of a global 500 of local communities committed to sustainable development. US Aid declared it a hall of famer in its campaign for good government. It is a hall of famer in a nationwide innovative 'clean and green' program - GALING-POOK Award - for the cleanest city in the country since the 1990's.
Now, as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, has led to mini tourism boom for the large sprawling "City in the Forest" on the island of Palawan. Eco-tourism, social-based tourism programs that allow local communities and residents to take part in community-based projects that benefit farmers and fishermen with additional income through sustainable projects that allow local villages to directly earn from tours to sites on both coasts of 150 kilometer-long city. One of the major attractions is the Underground River and its over 5000 hectare park - which is hoped will be preserved though eco-tourism, and with direct community involvement, provide livelihoods for generations to come.
500,000 tourists a year and growing:
Overall, the progress of tourism in Palawan Island has moved from a few dozen people per one flight a day, then mostly backpackers and nature adventure tourists and the opposite end of the spectrum - the high end market where the world’s rich and famous visit private island resorts.
But now, as Mayor Hagedorn points out, numbers of arrivals just in Puerto Princesa has reached over "480,000 and the year isn't even over yet." Hagedorn, who first was elected mayor of the city in 1992, has an affinity for parks, its river and forests.
Long before the Mayor entered politics, he owned a small bistro built in a lumberyard of his wife's brother. Tourists came for good food and music in what was then a small city with potential. Ellen Marcello Hagedorn, his wife, was the island’s provincial tourism officer then.
Ellen, often spending her own money and traveling at great risk on small boats and charting dozens of tourism sites as far back as 1988, established Palawan’s first tourism map.
"Mrs. Hagedorn actually mapped most of what the world knows now as Palawan’s tourism spots. Working with local guides, she blazed the trail few dared back then and worked with local communities to find the tourist spots and how to make them accessible," former Philippine Natural Resources Minister Teodoro Pena said in a radio interview. "We have come a long way. We still have a ways to go but now we are on the path we always dreamed possible." Pena, who has long since retired from government, is also in the tourism business with a small family-owned hotel.
Much of Puerto Princesa’s tourism is this way: Inns and pension houses, a small spattering of larger hotels are being built, but for a community committed to environmental protection. Rapid development is governed by a master plan, which takes into account available resources. Zoning is enforced and only those sites that fully comply with regulations are given the green light to ensure growth is controlled.
"As best we can, we also need investors, but be forewarned - we follow all environmental and development rules. If they can live with that, they're welcome." Mayor Hagedorn told the Ground Report.
Slow but sure: Tourism spot grows to major destination status
Lonely Planet tours first listed the island’s inns and beach cottage resorts back in the 1980's as a perfect ‘diamond in the rough’ for those travelers who wanted a "unique experience of nature and adventure." It has since grown first from word of mouth to major tourism and travel channels to become a place where almost three times the population who live in the city arrives to visit.
Over the three decades since it has come onto the world tourism stage, it has consistently become an example for others in locally based and internationally relevant planning with local government working closely with communities to ensure sustainable growth.
Palawan Island is covered by its own Environment Agency that is local in character and focus. The PCSD or Palawan Council for Sustainable Development ensures that the island's lone city and 24 towns follow sustainable development guidelines.
Puerto Princesa for its part has its own master plan and land use guidelines, which so far, have allowed it to avoid problems of other locations. Hotel construction and resort development is controlled and the character of tourism is unique as small family-owned inns and hotels house 70 per cent of visitors who come the city.
Criticism online from 'sore losers' laughed off as 'sour grapes'
Philippine leaders laughed off complaints published on a blog with ties to the Guardian Group of Publications as petty and sour grapes of losing entries.
Which to them seems to be a case 'sore losers' with the New 7 Wonders campaign, which among its winners is the UNESCO world Heritage site recognized Underground River in Puerto Princesa City,
Sadly, the New 7wonders biggest critic is a self described 'burned out' former lawyer who set up a travel website/blog and who initially backed two US entries which lost from lack of an organized local support campaign in the USA.
The sour grapes filled article on his blog raised a number issues with the contest. Issues that New 7 Wonders have on the surface they sound legitimate but looking into it deeper it is just intrigue are sown to cover up some groups who lost not making it to the final seven.
Yes, I grew up in Palawan, we are far from perfect there and have issues of our own there. But people came together to win this one with the help of millions of others all over the country and the globe. Now, critics whose own bids, lives, careers, and whatever else failed come forward to criticize because they could not win.
So a group that with no government support - put up a competition just to find out who are the top seven wonders of nature in the world. And then bash the contest, the winners, and everything because they couldn't get their own acts together.
But what saddens people there. Is this blog now being used by critics to lessen a victory of recognition for some of God's gift of this wonder of his creation being recognized.
It belitels and calls a sham what has been legitimized by the votes of millions and voted among the seven best in the world by millions of filipinos and people all over the world by one sad, sore loser.
There's a media reply from the group to the complaints raised in the article.
background: A reply to media questions on the global campaign
Thank you for your e-mail and for your interest in New7Wonders. Thanks, too, for the link to the Guardian article, in which I am quoted.
The bottom line here is that New7Wonders offered private and commercial companies the chance to become sponsors of the New7Wonders of Nature campaign, an opportunity that some companies took up in some countries. No nation or government asked for money and, I would like to emphasize that Finalists from those countries without sponsors (PPUR, for example) were able to participate and, indeed, succeed in the campaign. As regards the issues with the Maldives and Indonesia, please allow me to point you to the opinion piece I wrote for the Maldives newspaper,
Minivan News, in August, titled, "Komodo Island remains in New7Wonders of Nature campaign, as do the islands of Maldives" (http://minivannews.com/politics/comment-komodo-island-remains-in-the-new= 7wonders-of-nature-campaign-as-do-the-islands-of-the-maldives-24447 ).
This is linked to in the Guardian article, but it deserves reading by anyone interested in an overview of the situation.
Overall, what we are dealing with here is politics. In the case of Indonesia, we ended up with a situation where the country's Ministry of Tourism was attacking New7Wonders while the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was urging Indonesians to vote for Komodo via SMS.
"Let's all type KOMODO and send it to 9818." (Lin Lin Javalerak: http://news.n7w.com/2011/10/20/indonesian-president-calls-for-sms-support= -for-komodo/ ). New7Wonders got caught up in the politics of both countries, but our campaign is above politics.
That aside, the popularity of this four-year-long global exercise in democracy can be judged by looking at our Facebook page (645,000 fans, and counting) and there people will see the following:
* A video message from FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi in support of Finalist Iguazu Falls: "Lio Messi pide al mundo el voto por las Cataratas del Iguaz=FA"
* A video message from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
saying "If the Dead Sea gets voted in, it could mean a big boost in tourism for Israel, for Jordan and for the Palestinian Authority."
* A tweet from Peru's First Lady, Nadine Heredia, saying "Votemos por nuestra 'Amazonia como Maravilla Natural'.
* A powerful campaign video from Archbishop-emeritus Desmond Tutu (one of four Nobel Peace Prize winners supporting the New7Wonders of Nature, the other three being FW De Klerk, Lech Walesa and Nelson Mandela).
And all these messages have generated hundreds of thousands of comments from people who were energized by the campaign. When this outpouring of popular engagement with the campaign is contrasted with a handful of spiteful
blog posts and a few critical mainstream media articles, I think it's obvious that the New7Wonders of Nature was a tremendously positive experience.
Finally, I would like to add that in working towards its goal of raising awareness of our natural heritage and encouraging debate about sustainable tourism, New7Wonders provided a global voting platform without receiving any public monies or taxpayer support, something that in these challenging economic times is deserving of recognition.
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