Seville, Spain – Fresh from its Special Commendation from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Masungi Georeserve once again raised the Philippine flag at the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit as one of three destinations leading sustainability globally.

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The Sapot is one of the low-impact structures inside the Masungi Georeserve’s Discovery Trail, which uses biomimicry to access points of interest without interfering with the environment. (MANILA BULLETIN)

Headlined by former US President Barack Obama, together with the First Lady of Kenya and the President of Spain, and attended by Presidents and CEO’s of the world’s largest travel companies, the summit is regarded as the world’s most important event for the travel and tourism sector.

Masungi Georeserve, an innovative limestone forest and biodiversity conservation project in Rizal, was honored as a global finalist for the “Oscars of Travel” – the 15th Tourism for Tomorrow Awards under the prestigious Destination Stewardship Category.

After 20 years of conservation, the georeserve has succeeded in restoring and protecting threatened rainforests, natural heritage, and native biodiversity despite formidable odds.

“[Masungi Georeserve] should be proud of what [they’re] doing. [They] have developed a destination with the communities that is providing an enhanced experience for people across the world. [They] are a beacon for the country,” remarked Fiona Jefferey Obe, chair of the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.

Masungi is the first and only Philippine project nominated under this category in the awards’ 15-year run. It was selected from over 180 nominations from 71 nations by an independent panel of sustainable tourism experts through a rigorous selection process which included onsite assessments and stakeholder consultations.

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Managing Trustees Billie and Ann Dumaliang present the awards and impact report to Rizal Provincial Governor Rebecca Ynares (MANILA BULLETIN)

Story of Sacrifice

Judges, industry leaders and international media celebrated Masungi’s success amid threats to its conservation, including rampant land speculation, quarrying, illegal logging and other harmful extractive industries.

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From left: Tony Charters, senior judge of the Tourism for Tomorrow (T4T) Awards; Ann and Billie Dumaliang, trustees at Masungi Georeserve Foundation (MGFI); Fiona Jefferey Obe, chair of the T4T Awards, and Cat Dumancas, MGFI consultant. (MANILA BULLETIN)

Jeff Rutledge, president and CEO of Headline Sponsor AIG Travel, commended Masungi for successfully “establishing one of the first rewilding projects in the Philippines.”

Greg Dickinson of The Telegraph noted that Masungi “is more than a grown-up playground. It is the product of a collective of single-minded Filipinos who stood in the way of illegal loggers and other environmental offenders to protect one of their country’s most precious geological regions. These are the stewards of destination conservation.”

Tony Charters, senior judge of the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards further remarked that “MasungiGeoreserve does the Philippines proud with its high standards of construction and maintenance, and its commitment to high quality guiding by local people. The reserve is an excellent example of habitat restoration.”

Department of Tourism Undersecretary Bong Bengzon also congratulated Masungi for its recent awards, including another finalist spot at the upcoming United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Awards in St. Petersburg, Russia in September 2019.
“The DOT is proud of [Masungi’s] achievements and remains committed to promoting MasungiGeoreserve to both domestic and international markets. Mabuhay!”

Masungi’s Future

Acknowledging Masungi’s outstanding work, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) engaged Masungi to continue its landscape restoration efforts in denuded forest lands surrounding the georeserve to help reach the department’s reforestation goals. In the footsteps of bold environmental initiatives in Boracay and Manila Bay, Secretary Cimatu recently vowed to go after real estate speculators and environment despoilers in the area.

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Ann Dumaliang (right) in a light moment with guest of honor, the first Lady of Kenya, a staunch advocate for environmental issues in Africa (MANILA BULLETIN)

In this new area, Masungi’s park rangers and volunteers are planting new native trees, protecting the land and facing new challenges in a continuing saga of restoration and conservation.

“Visible and unequivocal government resolve, public vigilance and international attention will spell the difference between the eventual survival or demise of Masungi and other threatened environments in the Philippines. Our team has endured countless challenges, even assaults and political harassment, in defense of this special place. Our work is not easy, but we now know that the world is taking notice of Masungi’s story. We only hope that this recognition inspires more changemakers to follow suit and help fight for the environment,” said Ann Dumaliang, managing trustee of the MasungiGeoreserve Foundation.

Asked about a brazen and armed invasion of a section of the conservation area not open to visitors in 2016, she revealed that sadly, perpetrators comprising land speculators, professional squatters and their cohorts in politics are still lawlessly occupying over a hundred hectares of land, harassing rangers, and ridiculously trying to evict Masungi and exact rent from land under the project.

Exemplars of Destination Stewardship

MasungiGeoreserve was shortlisted under the Destination Stewardship category together with Grupo Rio de Plata of Brazil and the Sustainable Destination Council of St. Kitts, one half of an island-state in the Caribbean, which eventually garnered the top award.

“What Masungi, St. Kitts and Rio de Prata show is that when tourism initiatives are managed well, and with a creative spark, they can be a tangible force of good for everyone – locals, tourists, governments, tortoises, cloud rats. While a localized tourism scheme may seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the wider societal and environmental challenges humanity faces today, the collective impact is vast. Like a cobweb threading itself to every corner of the planet, the movement for sustainable tourism is a deceptively powerful force,” noted The Telegraph’s Greg Dickinson.

The Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are the world’s top accolade in sustainable tourism; they recognize the highest ethical standards in the sector and are respected by industry leaders, governments and international media alike. The awards are aimed at recognizing best practice in sustainable tourism within the industry globally.

The Destination Stewardship category celebrates organizations that have rejuvenated a place, maintained and developed its authenticity, brought stakeholders together and created something new and attractive.

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Winners and finalists for the 2019 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards (MANILA BULLETIN)

Tourism & Climate Change

At the summit, President Obama called on one of the world’s largest and fastest growing sectors to use its collective power to help address climate change.

“Some of the most beautiful places on this planet that we most want to visit and share with our children and spend time in are at risk,” he said, adding that climate change “is the defining issue of our time, even if people don’t realize it yet. It’s here.”

For more information about MasungiGeoreserve, visit www.masungigeoreserve.com.

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