By Andy McElroy
CEBU, Philippines, 24 February 2016 – A landmark public-private cross-border partnership in Asia is gathering pace in an effort to protect a multi-billion dollar industry on the frontline of hazard exposure.
Government officials and representatives of the tourism sector from across the region are working together as part of the Hotel Resilient Initiative to develop disaster resilience standards in holiday destinations and resorts.
The Deputy Minister for the Maldives’ National Disaster Management Centre, Ms. Fathimath Thasneem, the Director of the Philippines’ Office of Tourism Standards and Regulation, Department of Tourism, Ms. Maria Rica C. Buena, as well as tourism association officials, resort managers and hoteliers from Hong Kong, Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam met in Cebu to launch the development of a standard module for hotel resiliency.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – a 15-year global blueprint adopted last March to reduce deaths and devastation from disasters – places such multi-sectoral partnerships at the heart of efforts to prevent and reduce disaster risk. It is the successor agreement to the Hyogo Framework, which was adopted just weeks after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami rocked the region and hit tourism hard.
“The tourism industry in Asia is a strategic part of the economies of many countries – including, very much, the Maldives – and there is no doubt we need bold ideas and robust actions to adapt to a changing climate and changing world,” Ms. Thasneem said.
The Maldives has 1,200 coral islands that sit an average of one metre above sea level. The tourism sector contributes 30 percent of the country’s GDP directly and 60 percent indirectly. From humble beginnings in 1972, with the establishment of the country’s first two resorts, the Maldives now has 105 resorts that receive 1.2 million visitors a year, four times the local population.
“When a disaster occurs there is a major impact on the Maldives’ way of life and the economy. The success of the tourism sector is vital to the people and the country. That is why this Hotel Resilient Initiative matters so much,” Ms. Thasneem said.
The expansion of the tourism sector in the Philippines has been impressive also. Annual revenue has doubled over the past six years to US$5 billion. Hotel capacity has risen to almost 203,000 rooms nationally. The industry now employs almost 5 million people, approximately 10 percent of the country’s workforce. On average, each overseas visitor spends US$103 a day and stays for 10 nights. This combines with the expenditure of the 54.6 million domestic tourists who travel the country each year.
This growth has occurred amid major progress to strengthen risk assessment, early warning and disaster risk governance. However, significant challenges remain. The experience of several disasters, including the Bohol earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, act as a powerful reminder of the need to strengthen resilience in a sector that generates substantial economic wealth and provides for millions of livelihoods.
“This initiative represents a call for action,” said Ms. Buena of the Philippines’ Office of Tourism Standards and Regulation. “We have a very fragile environment and once destroyed, we lose the very resource from which the tourism industry thrives.”
The draft standards have been developed by a multi-discipline team led by Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), in collaboration with Bournemouth University, UK, as well as Griffith University and the University of Queensland, Australia.
Dr. Bijan Khazi of KIT, who overseeing the standards’ development, said the aim is to offer a tool that combines high technical calibre with easy use, including by small and medium-sized hotels.
The draft standards have four elements: hazard risk, and the robustness of buildings, systems and management respectively. Hotels and resorts would gain some credits for basic resilience measures. Additional credits would be awarded for a more exemplary approach.
The current piloting of the tool in the Philippines will explore issues such as whether it should lean towards a more basic checklist or a more complex system that includes certification and periodic monitoring.
The Hotel Resilient Initiative was launched in July 2015. It is jointly organized by the Global Initiative on Disaster Risk Management run by German international cooperation body GIZ, the Pacific Asia Travel Association and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, and supported by the German federal government.