Lifestyle / Lifestyle
By Alex Vergara
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: November 23, 2008
MANILA, Philippines - If the Philippines has
the highest concentration of bird species per square kilometer,
the UK probably has the highest concentration of bird watchers
per square kilometer.
Joseph Ace Durano, secretary of the Department
of Tourism, wasn't exaggerating when he recently addressed
a small crowd of British and Filipino bird watchers at the
Wetland Centre in London.
He repeated his pitch to a bigger crowd,
which included Philippine Ambassador to the Court of St. James
Eduardo Espiritu and several prominent British businessmen
and diplomats, in a keynote speech over dinner the next day
at the London Marriott Hotel.
DOT's latest thrust to promote the Philippines
to "birders" is deemed by many in the tourism industry
as a timely one. As major economies in the West continue to
contract, Durano and his team are looking for new tourism
activities, apart from diving, that the DOT can sell to foreigners.
DOT signs up as Patron of the Waterfowl
and Wetland Trust.
"If tourism is the country's sunrise
industry in the next 20 years, then ecotourism is the industry's
sunrise product," he said.
(L-R) Tourism Attache Chicoy Enerio,
Wetland Center Director Martin Senior,
DOT Sec. Ace Durano, PTA Sec.Mark Lapid
The earlier affair, one of several events
related to the country's recent participation at the World
Travel Market in London, coincided with the formal signing
of DOT's substantial donation to the Wetland Centre, a nonprofit
organization tasked primarily to generate interest in birds
and their conservation.
The move might raise not a few eyebrows in
a country perennially strapped for cash, but Durano insisted
that the contribution is money well spent as DOT tries to
lure more tourists to visit the Philippines.
"I believe it's worth it considering
the returns," he said. "For one, it raises awareness
about possibilities of bird watching in the Philippines. We
can also have direct access to their members' e-mails, their
Serious bird watchers
After all, no one takes bird watching as seriously as the
British do (the United Kingdom is RP's biggest source of tourists
Audience witnessing the program at the It's in the UK, after all, where bird watching
started in the 18th century and eventually became not only
a favorite pastime among enthusiasts, but also an art form.
Water Edge's Room of the London Wetland Center
The Wetland Centre alone, a manmade urban
haven for wild birds that has been replicated in other parts
of Great Britain and Ireland, boasts of 200,000 members. Close
to 50,000 Britons are said to be hardcore birders, who have
no qualms flying to the ends of the earth just to see and
add a rare bird or two to their checklist.
And the Philippines, thanks to its rich yet
perpetually threatened biodiversity, is a perfect fit for
them. British birders have been coming to the country in trickles
for more than three decades now.
In fact, a British ornithologist named Jeffery
Whitehead discovered the Philippine eagle in 1896, more than
a century before the now endangered specie was declared the
country's national bird. This explains the etymology of its
scientific name pithecophaga jefferyi.
With DOT's latest promotional thrust, tourism
officials hope to draw attention to bird watching in the Philippines
and add it to the country's growing list of mainstream draws
designed to appeal to long-staying and high-spending Britons.
"The British, like most Europeans, love
to travel regularly," said Domingo Ramon Enerio, the
country's tourism attache in London. "They're likely
to become more selective, but won't forego traveling even
in an economic crisis. Bird watching is simply a new product,
which reaffirms our country's diverse attractions."
Arrivals from the UK increased by 18.2 percent
during the first seven months of 2008 compared to the same
period last year, Enerio added. Despite the expected slowdown,
DOT hopes to end the year with a record 90,000 British tourists
visiting the country.
Apart from WTM, considered by DOT as the
biggest travel fair of its kind in Europe, the country has
been joining Dive Birmingham for almost a decade now. Unlike
WTM, the annual Birmingham show, as its name implies, mainly
appeals to divers.
Although diving remains a major draw among
Britons, tourism officials feel the need to launch new products
if the country is to sustain, even surpass, previous visitor
arrivals. Bird watching could very well be the next big thing.
"Of the 600 species of birds found in the Philippines,
200 are endemic to the country," Durano said. "Together
with the private sector and members of the Wild Bird Club
of the Philippines, we have initially identified 13 bird-watching
sites in the country."
These 13 sites, which include a number of
towns in Pangasinan, Bataan, Pampanga, Cavite, Cebu, Palawan
and Davao, home to the iconic Philippine eagle, are chronicled
in a recently released book titled "Birdwatching in the
"They're not the only sites we have,
but they're so far the most accessible," said veteran
tour operator and neophyte birder Cesar Cruz, GM of T.R.I.P.S.
Travel Inc. "We'll be introducing more sights with the
release of a second volume sometime next year."
Cruz, also the president of the Philippine
Tour Operators Association, belongs to a consortium of tour
operators, which includes Annset Holidays, Rajah Tours and
Southeast Travels, specializing in bird-watching packages.
"We developed the packages fairly recently,"
said Cruz. "Each package is built around a specific bird
or birds found in a particular area. It also includes some
R&R like shopping and wellness for those who want to make
the most out of their trip."
For the longest time, British birders have
relied mostly on their Filipino counterparts to help them
get to their desired birding site.
One of their chief sources of information
is Briton Tim Fisher, who came to the country some 30 years
ago in search of birds. He decided to stay here for good.
"I'm sure any intrepid birder can find
his way around the Philippines," said Cruz. "What
they usually miss out on, which we can provide, are knowledge
and access to the country's other attractions that would complete
For his part, Enerio has been working on
intensifying awareness among Londoners of DOT's newest campaign
literally on the ground.
He recently had 25 double-decker buses plying
such popular London streets as Oxford Circus, Hyde Park Corner,
Knightsbridge and High Street Kensington with identical billboards
promoting bird watching in the Philippines. To get its message
across, each billboard features an imposing image of the Philippine
"Although we have hundreds of birds
to choose from, we picked the Philippine eagle because no
creature can quite match its power to draw attention,"
said Enerio. "At the same time, we've also been placing
ads in national newspapers and doing e-mail campaigns. We'll
be sending an initial batch of British tour operators on a
trip to the country early next year."
He also appealed to the private sector as
well as local governments in the 13 sites to respond by developing
infrastructures such as roads, parking spaces and visitors'
centers to entice more people, including, of course, Filipinos,
to go bird watching.
Despite the world's bleak economic landscape,
Durano is quite optimistic that the country's efforts to promote
bird watching among foreigners will, in keeping with the product's
nature, soon take wing.
"These are not just hopes," he
said. "After all, we have something unique to offer them.
I'm pretty sure this (thrust) will fly and bring Philippine
tourism to new heights."