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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australi : Building opportunities through sustainable tourism in the Philippines

Ngaire Griggs recently returned from an Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) assignment in the Philippines, where she helped communities to promote their unique culture and heritage.

After completing a degree in Environmental Science, and with previous experience in tourism, Ngaire was looking for an opportunity to gain a global perspective when she saw an opening for a Tourism Development Officer in the Philippines with the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program.

‘I place great importance on ecotourism and felt that volunteering through the AVID program would further my understanding of the industry,’ says Ngaire.

Ngaire was successful in her application and began a journey that would take her to the northern mountains of the Philippines, 340 kilometres north of Manila. Her role was to support social welfare and tourism staff to improve tourism products and enhance enterprise opportunities in Lagawe, capital of the province of Ifugao.

Ifugao is famous for its rice terraces, hand carved into the sides of mountains by the Ifugao people more than 2,000 years ago. Hikers from all over the world travel to visit the World Heritage-listed ‘Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras’ and experience the unique culture of the region.

Until recently, rice farming has been the principal livelihood of most people in the region. However, with decreasing yields and low economic returns for their work, younger farmers are turning to other industries and larger cities to support their families. The local government is encouraging eco-tourism as a means of slowing urban migration and ensuring that the culture and landscape of the rice terraces survive.

In her assignment, Ngiare’s focus was on encouraging travellers to the region to look beyond the World Heritage site and spread the economic benefits of tourism with businesses across the province.

‘I worked with smaller municipal government offices to produce tour packages and marketing materials, in the hope of enticing more tourists to far flung areas within the Province,’ Ngaire says.

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Training staff in skills such as tour guiding, internet marketing, social media management and website design, Ngaire helped to increase the capacity of the Provincial Government and assisted with its mission to achieve sustainable growth in the tourism industry.

The Provincial Government of Ifugao has a strong focus on social welfare and development and strives to empower all members of the community to have an improved quality of life. An important part of Ngaire’s volunteer assignment was training people with disabilities to work in the tourism industry.

‘Working with people with disabilities was a rewarding experience, particularly seeing the confidence grow within them after a few days working in a seminar.’

Although some may have found the idea of living in a rural area daunting, Ngaire took it in her stride.

‘Before reaching the province I had observed how remote it was and assumed that life there may be isolated and lonely, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!’ she says.

‘The local community was incredible and very social. Much of my spare time there was spent hiking, mountain biking, preparing food and attempting karaoke.’

‘Ifugao itself is very rich in culture. There’s quite a large Indigenous population and they are very proud of their culture. I was lucky enough to see quite a lot of their – they really let me into it and showed me a lot of what it means to be an Ifugao.’

The experience has been beneficial, both personally and professionally.

‘I feel I furthered my knowledge in both tourism and development. By volunteering and it gave me a broader understanding of the importance of sustainable tourism and capacity building. Living in the Philippines taught me a lot about patience, the importance of community and the joy of living a simple life.’

You can hear Ngaire talk about her assignment here: Video: volunteering in the Philippines

Recently returned from the Philippines, Ngaire is working as a tour guide on Phillip Island and the Great Ocean Road in Victoria while completing postgraduate study in tourism. Ngaire has set her sight on on undertaking another Australian Volunteer assignment in the area of sustainable tourism.