Manila, Philippines – Tourism is arguably one of the hardest-hit industries sectors by the Covid-19 pandemic, as it ground to a halt with the imposition of the nationwide quarantine. What could have been another promising year became a struggle to stay afloat for many tourism-related establishments.
But for the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST), a Silang Cavite-based academy that specializes in education and training, it was an opportunity to tap the virtual world in reaching out to learners locked down in their homes.
The school, which was prepping for its tenth founding anniversary in May last year, was compelled to navigate cyberspace to pursue thrusts on sustainable tourism during the pandemic.
“We used the early months of the enhanced community quarantine to record YouTube video series titled Changing Landscapes to provide practical pointers and laid out the groundwork for our online learning offerings,” says ISST founding president Mina Gabor, a former Department of Tourism secretary.
She said that as the quarantine was relaxed in the subsequent months, it proceeded with the conduct of its Sustainable Tourism Opportunities for Entrepreneurship webinar series for stakeholders sidelined by the crisis.
A collaboration with the Philippine Small and Medium Business Development Foundation, Inc. (Philsmed) and Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (Philexport), the virtual educational programs explored the livelihood opportunities in farm tourism, urban gardening, with eminent local and foreign experts as resource persons.
The school also conducted a Lifestyle Health and New Consciousness webinar with former health secretary Jaime Galvez Tan, Dr. Albert Jo, and Liz Mehta of HM Design to address emerging issues and concerns in the new normal.
To support food security undertakings, the ISST conducted an Edible Landscaping forum with the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) to provide a garden model for homes, commercial, and other available vacant spaces as a source of healthy food source during the community quarantine and beyond.
She added that the said initiative, along with urban gardening, will be replicated in key local government units in Metro Manila and suburbs to help provide a stable food supply. First, to implement the program is Parañaque led by Mayor Edwin Olivares, to be followed by Pasay City.
As part of its diversification, ISST launched its Food Travel series last July, which spotlights the rich culinary traditions and food resources of the different provinces. Pampanga, acknowledged as the country’s culinary capital because of its diverse gastronomic offerings and cultural heritage, is first to take center stage in the program.
A joint effort with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the Provincial Government, the two-day event featured restaurant stalwarts who helped transform Pampanga into a haven for food tourism with its unique blend of cooking traditions and innovations.
Founded in 2010, the ISST is described by National Geographic Traveller Magazine global editor Costas Christ as the “first sustainable tourism school in the Asia-Pacific region educating a new generation of leaders.”
In 2018, it opened a field campus and forged a strategic partnership with the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction in Silang, Cavite.
“As part of our belated tenth-anniversary celebration, ISST will hold a series of events and training to sustain the momentum we have generated last year,” Gabor enthused.
Among these are the Global Faith-Based Tourism Conference in line with the Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines, the 7th National Farm Tourism Conference in Bohol, and the adjunct 4th Lakbay Bukid Award, which will recognize the industry’s leading personalities.
Smaller programs include Event Management Certification, Tour Guiding / Eco Guiding, Effective Customer Service, mushroom growing, and bamboo production.
Concluding the year is the Dine For A Cause for the benefit of the Indigenous Literacy Program for the Mangyan Hanunuo Tribe in Oriental Mindoro.
She also revealed that the Philippines will host the International Ecotourism Travel Mart (IETM) at the IIRR, gathering global players and stakeholders on ecotourism. Originally slated last year, the event will include new systems and technologies developed as a Covid-19 pandemic response.
With logistical and resource challenges notwithstanding, ISST is confident that more partners, both foreign and local, will step forward to collaborate with the institution to fulfill its vision.
“We will continue to see rough sailing in the next two years. But beyond the pandemic, ISST is committed in its pursuit of being the premier school with recognized excellence in sustainable tourism education in Southeast Asia by 2025,” she concluded.