Mina Gabor has a collection of 20 different bird’s nests gathered from around the 52-hectare property of International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) in Cavite. These are abandoned nests in different shapes and sizes built by 74 wild birds that live in the area.
The nests have a new home in her office in the school and in the school’s residence, where Gabor stays when she’s in town. It’s a fun little hobby, until a reality check puts things in perspective.
Like a timeline of when man started to neglect his environment, recently found nests are now made of plastic, wires or anything that closely resembles twigs, leaves and grass. Birds, Gabor said, cannot distinguish plastic from twigs.
The former tourism secretary founded ISST in 2010. It is the first sustainable tourism school in the Asia-Pacific, a private nonstock and nonprofit corporation. The school is dedicated to uplifting the lives of communities with ecological resources that need to be preserved and sustainably used for tourism.
The school has partnership with International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), among others. Directors are, apart from Gabor, former Philippine Airlines president and COO Jimmy Bautista, Rotary Club of Manila president-elect and Yacht Club commodore and Network of Independent Travel Agencies chair Bobby Joseph, former Social Welfare Secretary and former Civil Service Commission Chair Corazon Alma de Leon, treasurer Miguel Guioguio.
The school needs IIRR to help empower rural communities and make them self-sufficient.
“We are teaching the communities sanitation and nutrition, and edible landscape. We are especially focusing on children so they will develop a love for planting. Right now, university enrollment for agriculture is low. We want them to know there’s money in agriculture,” Gabor said.
Students earn certificates at the end of each course. Courses include ecotourism, farm tourism, edible landscape, how to develop your organic garden, sustainable tourism opportunities, effective customer service, marketing and financing, and events management in partnership with Asian Institute of Management.
“You can have the best boutique hotel and merchandise in the souvenir shop, but the wrong deal will spoil your entire branding,” Gabor said.
Urban farm tourism
A recent addition is a course on urban farm tourism. One time, a student came up with an idea of “farm tourism along the riles.” Gabor said that the concept gives residents of rundown areas the potential to earn money.
“Whatever I’m doing are things that I saw were lacking when I was tourism secretary,” Gabor said. “My biggest frustration is when communities request for funding and when the head of a project doesn’t win the next election, the project goes away. There’s a lack of capability. They don’t know what to do next. So this school is just one stepping stone, but one school cannot do it alone.”
She said the school’s goal is to put more people in the income bracket. The institution can find a market or a buyer for them. Next is to make sure that the environment is protected.
Ecotourism has three vital components, one being that it must be a natural area. It cannot be man-made.
“You cannot create a lake,” she said. “Ecotourism must be natural, an environment that has been there for thousands of years.”
It must focus on socially responsible travel, personal growth and environmental sustainability. It involves traveling to destinations where flora, fauna and cultural heritage are primary attractions.
“Whatever income is derived, it must benefit the community,” she said.
In this quarantine, modified or otherwise, Gabor said people prefer shorter trips—day trips, by car—and enjoy fresh air and open parks, farms and food trips, cooking tours.
“People want to stay in small but well-managed areas, like homestays and farm stays,” she said. “Microholidays will become a big thing in the future. These are short-term holidays, so local government units must now look at places where people can go.” Identify the farms and prepare them, she said.
Next year will be big for the country, she said. It’s the 500th anniversary of the Christianization of the Philippines. Gabor hopes the government can drum up interest for this milestone.