A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was inked on January 30 between the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, Batanes Provincial Government, and Batanes State College (BSC), formalizing their collaboration related to the sustainability of Batanes and its membership in the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO).

The MOU details the obligations of all parties for the long-term tourism sustainability of the Batanes Islands through the implementation of research programs, extension projects, and similar undertakings. It will be effective until October 30, 2026.

It covers the areas of governance, resident satisfaction, destination economic benefits, employment and human resources, tourism seasonality and visitor satisfaction, energy management, solid waste management, wastewater management, climate change, accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusivity. These are key issue areas which Batanes must monitor within the next three years as an INSTO member.

Batanes became the first destination in the Philippines to be included in the INSTO last year, largely through the efforts of UP Diliman multidisciplinary research group Batanes Tourism and Hospitality Monitoring Center (BTHMC).

“We are very happy that we are entering into this partnership with the provincial government of Batanes, as well as the Batanes State College,” UP Diliman Chancellor Edgardo Carlo Vistan II said during the signing ceremony at the BSC Amphitheater in Basco, Batanes.

“You are the first international tourism observatory in the Philippines. You should take pride in that. You are already part of history,” Vistan said in a mix of Filipino and English.

BSC President Djovi Regala Durante expressed his optimism for the partnership. “Three or four years from now, we shall look back to this very moment and proudly say that we have moved to advance sustainable tourism in Batanes.”

Batanes Vice Governor Ignacio Villa underscored the broader impact of the endeavor, aspiring for its benefits to extend not only to Batanes but also to communities worldwide.

“Our sincerest gratitude to the UNWTO INSTO and UP for giving us this rare opportunity and recognition. May this advocacy and undertaking be successful and fruitful. And may it benefit not only the people of Batanes, but of all peoples,” Durante said representing Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco.

Vistan was joined by other University officials. They were UP Vice President for Administration Augustus Resurreccion, BTHMC Project Director Mary Anne Ramos-Tumanan, former UP Diliman Asian Institute of Tourism (AIT) Dean Edieser Dela Santa, and four more members of the UP technical team.

Batanes as the country’s first INSTO member

On June 16, 2023, Batanes was chosen as the first INSTO member in the Philippines, thanks to UP Diliman’s BTHMC.

The BTHMC is composed of researchers from the UP Diliman AIT, UP Diliman College of Home Economics Department of Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Management, and UP Diliman College of Engineering Institute of Civil Engineering.

Dela Santa recounted the journey of the UP-hosted multidisciplinary group which started before the pandemic struck. “It’s been a long journey,” he said.

“Activities started in earnest in 2019 with stakeholders mapping, obtaining ethics clearance, and obtaining endorsements from local and national officials,” he added.

“Together with our friends from Batanes, particularly the provincial government, a [technical working group or TWG] was created and this was supported by an executive order issued by the governor herself. During the pandemic when we could not travel to Batanes, virtual TWG meetings were held that allowed us to maintain contact with the people of Batanes.”

“There was really a lot engagement with the stakeholders from the very beginning, during the pandemic, and afterwards.”

According to the UNWTO, the BTHMC is “committed to supporting the sustainable development of tourism based on evidence and a participatory approach. These commitments are instrumental in building a sustainable and resilient tourism sector that benefits the local people, the Ivatans, as well as visitors, while ensuring environmental and cultural conservation.”

“The observatory joins UNWTO’s growing international network of observatories, all of which are dedicated to creating inclusive and healthy spaces for both visitors and host communities, while promoting the responsible management of tourism,” it also said.

In last year’s announcement of Batanes’ inclusion in the INSTO, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili emphasized the importance of measuring indicators to ensure tourism sustainability.

“For any destination, measurement is important as it provides a better understanding of where a destination stands and where it wants to go,” Pololikashvili said.

“For a destination like the Batanes Islands, such measurement work is even more relevant as it will help to preserve the uniqueness of the islands and build a responsible sector that benefits the local people and visitors alike,” he added.

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