Monday, May 15, 2006

Blog-O-Rama: Ivan on backpacking & heritage conservation

http://www.mb.com.ph/TECH2006051564077.html
by Annalyn S. Jusay
Manila Bulletin (15 May 2006)

Ivan is a young man who is well on his way to exploring the country's 7,107 islands and more. His candid and well-written travel journals also give his readers a glimpse of other exotic places in Asia such as Luang Prabang in Laos, Ayutthaya in Thailand and Siem Reap in Cambodia. Far from exemplifying the jetsetting lifestyle of the rich and famous, Ivan is a passionate advocate of backpacking as a cheap and reasonable way to travel. He says travelling need not be expensive. By observing traditions and policies in other countries, the Philippines can preserve its cultural heritage and offer what is best to all kinds of tourists. More in the following interview:


Q. Please tell us something about yourself.

A. I'm a member of the Board of Trustees of the Heritage Conservation Society and a feisty advocate for the preservation of Philippine architectural heritage. I just finished my MBA in UP and am currently working on various projects in Pampanga including heritage and culinary tours.

Q. When did you start to blog? What was your main purpose in blogging? Did anyone convince you?

A. I started blogging during my trip to Kota Kinabalu and Brunei in April 2005. It was my first backpack trip. I guess since so many people would be asking me when I got back home where I went, what I did, etc., I might as well update everyone through a blog. At that time, I wasn't really serious and simply updated the blog when I went around. And I had my MBA studies to take care of so it was really dependent on available time. But my heritage advocacy was very evident even in those early posts.

Then I got to attend a workshop last March on blogging and podcasting as political communication tools sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. That is when I got serious. By that time, I had already completed my academic requirements and had several trips lined up. So that's how it took off.

Q. Can you tell us more about your advocacy for backpacking and heritage conservation in the country? What do you think is needed to promote this among the general population?

A. People often think that to travel, you need a lot of money. Yes, you need funds to go places but it need not be a hefty amount. And backpacking is one way for you to see the sights without creating a big hole in your pockets. Once people know how cheap travelling can be, backpacking will definitely take off.

On heritage, we have to fight to preserve our heritage primarily for future generations of Filipinos. We must preserve our national identity for our children and their children. Second, for crying out loud, cultural and natural heritage is what foreign tourists come here to see! And when we destroy our heritage, we are bringing down our market value in the multi-billion dollar tourism industry.

Many of our local officials and priests destroy heritage in the name of modernization and progress. Heritage creates local identity. Local identity is a very strong rallying point towards progress. Little do our local officials know that they are actually lowering the standard of living in their area by converting it into an ordinary, nondescript place. As the Filipino proverb goes, "Ang hindi lumingon sa pinaggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan." You actually think that salawikain would survive this long if it weren't true?

Q. In essence, what do you think is wrong with Philippine tourism? What is good about it?

A. First, we don't know the market. As I mentioned earlier, foreigners travel to visit the cultural and natural heritage of other countries. Would you go to China to visit an SM mall for example? I'd go there to visit the Forbidden City or the Great Wall of China! When we go to Europe, we visit old cities like Paris, Rome, Venice, Madrid, London, etc. and they are all magnificent because of their architectural heritage.

I think policy makers should read this article entitled Finding Heritage Value in The Wall Street Journal about how China is starting to realize that preserving archaeological sites may be a better idea than building shopping malls.

Second is the cost of travelling to the Philippines. Would you believe that the Philippines is relatively expensive to the traveler compared to the rest of Southeast Asia? According to Lonely Planet, you need an average daily budget of US$25 in the Philippines, the second highest in the ASEAN. Compare this to Thailand's US$11 to 15 or US$12 in Malaysia. So we have to bring down the costs of lodging, food and transportation among others.

Since we target mainstream tourism too much, we fail to realize that the bigger market is the budget traveler, the backpacker. You would be surprised with the ratio of foreigners to locals in major tourist cities in our Southeast Asian neighbors such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. The reason they are attracting millions of tourists is because they are backpacker friendly.

One surprise was Luang Prabang in Laos which was so remote, I think Sagada is many times more accessible. But lo and behold, it was teeming with tourists! There was a nearby waterfalls and there were more than a thousand foreigners who paid US$1.50 just to enter. And to think we have more majestic waterfalls in the country. But I have yet to see one that could attract that much foreigners.

The DOT will have to realize that the backpacker is a powerful market. You would be surprised that Americans, Canadians, French or Australians go for the US$5 a night accomodations with just the basic bed and electric fan, and a common shower. Others would even opt for dormitory rooms. For meals, its street food served by hawkers. That's why we have to strive to keep street food clean. The DOT will have to endeavor to create established backpack trails if it wants to attract the tourists which visit our neighbors in the droves. I'm willing to help them if they need it. I have more to say about our need to catch up but I suggest you visit my blog instead and click on the international destinations in the blog index.

Q.What is the best thing that blogging has brought you since you started? Have you received any memorable feedbacks from your readers?

A. Blogging made me more observant of the places I visit. That is why I learn more lessons when I go around. It's fun and encouraging when you find out people read what you have to say. Many comments let you know that you are not alone in your beliefs and advocacies.

Q. What are your observations of the Philippine blogosphere?

A. It is booming! Although there are those who simply blog about their daily routines, there are many who have a lot to say. I hope that more Filipinos read local blogs or better yet, start their own blogs.

Q. Do you think travelling and blogging go together? Do you think blogging will help your travelling, and vice versa?

A. Definitely! I'm happy that I blogged about my trips since I could go back and visit those old entries to remind me about what I did, where I went, etc. It also reminds me of the lessons learned which I hope to apply locally in the future. As I said, blogging made me more aware, observant and appreciative of the things I see, do and experience. And travelling helps me blog since if I don't travel, I have nothing to write about.

Q. What do you think are the qualities of a good blogger?

A. A good blogger should be consistent with regard to topic and content, and frequency of updates. Second, he or she should be opinionated. If what you write about is just your daily routine, you'll bore people to death.

Q. Your online/blogging habits.

A. I'm online for as long as there is a computer and an internet connection.

Q. Plans for your blog.

A. Maybe a new layout, but I'm happy the way the current one is going. You could visit other heritage blogs I manage for the Heritage Conservation Society like "ICOMOS Philippines" (http://icomosphilippines.blogspot.com) and "The Gabaldon Legacy" (http://gabaldon.blogspot.com).

For comments and inquiries, write to annalyn.jusay@gmail.com

25 comments:

  1. Great write up! Congratulations to you and Ajay :-D

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  2. Anonymous16.5.06

    I keep trying to convince people to go and backpack in the Philippines but the common themes that come up again and again are the fact that it is off the kangaroo trail to Asutralia from Europe. Most people transition in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore rather than Manila and the other perception is that it is a dangerous place for tourists.

    I have been to Manila and Boracay and compared to my home city of Dublin, Ireland Manila is safer at night. Without question. the risk of assault is lower and the people are friendlier. In Dublin you are likely to get robbed or get into a bar fight quite easily.

    I think that the Philippines main problem is a problem of perception by tourists rather than actually hwo the country is. I found it to be beautiful, with warm kind people who do not realise what a beautiful and potentially lucrative tourist destination the Philippines could become.

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  3. Yes, I agree with that. The way the situation in the Philippines is being portrayed abroad is far from real. And our local media has a lot to do with the way the international media sees us.

    The Philippines is indeed a nice place to visit. No doubt about that! :)

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  4. Great article. I actually envy you for being able to travel a lot in our country. Though I still manage to get around, I'm more of a city person and there's work and... (I know: excuses, excuses.)


    Were you also a member of U.P. Mountaineering? (Not that I was. I kinda just figured you were... ;))

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  5. Nah, that's one of my frustrations since I was an undergrad in 1997. Hehe! I don't think I would survive the time trials around the acad oval. Haha! Maybe if I get a little bit thinner. I'll consider it when I do my Ph.D.

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  6. Can I fit into your back pack on your next trip?

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  7. Hey tokayo! I should be saying the same thing to you! Hehe!

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  8. Congrats for the interview!

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  9. ivan,

    i am fascinated by your travels and interest in seeing different cultures. i agree with you that the country has so much to offer but there are just so many obstacles for tourists to come and see it. Recently, one of the biggest newspapers here in the UK had a full size SUnday spread on the Philippines. It was a really good article, saying how the country is truly off the beaten track and has so much to offer. The article even said that it is so different from thailand in that the latter is oversaturated with tourists. Here, when the subject of travelling to southeast asia comes up, immediately people think of thailand, or malaysia, or Cambodia, or Vietnam or Indonesia. When you suggest PHilippines, they immediately think it;s dangerous. I think the Philippines should work on its image a bit, then intensify tourism efforts. Why is Bali still so popular a tourist destination when Indonesia has its share of muslim-extremist related troubles? Why has Thailand continued to bring in tourist after the tsunamis of 2004? WHat should the Philippines be doing to get its share of the market which it rightfully deserves? ~Sigh. Ivan, i think YOU can do something to help. You're passionate about tourism, you have national pride, you're very much a people person and quite driven to ensure a project is successful. Please help the DOT.

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  10. james dean20.10.06

    your backpacking idea is good. I like the philippines, but I wonder if you have a good enough control of crime for backpacking to become a norm?

    that is my only concern.

    otherwise, the philippines is great in my eyes.

    personally, I had one alaskan friend who got murdered when he went hiking in the mountains around angeles city. he was a big guy too.

    still, I like your dream, and hope it will come true for you someday.

    there are so many places in the PI that I would love to check out. and if not for the criminal/rebel element, I would.

    good luck!

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  11. Hey Ivan, My wife and I have promoted backpacker, budget tourism, relocating and retiring to a simple fullfilling life here in the Philippines for the last 20 years but have yet to meet a kindred spirit until now. YOU are the first outspoken Filipino person who GETS IT, really share our views and attitudes. We have noticed over the last 5 years that with the Lakbay Bayan TV travel programs a new birth of budget, adventure travelers among Filipinos in their 20s and early 30. Though we've noticed this new crowd emerging we have not had a lot of contact with them, maybe because of our age differences ( we're both 53 ). Ever since arriving the first time in the Philippines when I was 25 years old back in Jan. 1980 heading for the Ati-Atihan festival to PARTY I have been IN-LOVE witht he Philippines and the Filipino people. Hope our paths cross sometime while living "life on the road". Bill and Lorna

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  12. Anonymous22.6.07

    Ivan, great blog! Just want to ask, what camera are you using? You got really great pics! Thanks!

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  13. My latest camera is a Sony Cybershot

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  14. I find your site equally informative and inspiring. My beau and I have also developed a passion for travelling. Our blog has become a great way to chronicle our adventures and showcase our photographs.

    I admire your passion for advocating tourism and national heritage. I hope that this site will help start a trend in backpacking.

    It's nice to see that the DOT has made some significant moves in promoting our tourism such as amplifying online presence and regulating fees and transportation in many tourist locations. An example of which I've seen would be Boracay and Pagsanjan. There's still a long way to go, but at least there's improvement.

    Best regards!

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  15. Anonymous1.9.07

    This is fantastic, Ivan! I'm so happy that your efforts are being recognized this way. You've come such a long way! (Random memory: I remember walking to your house from Sara's when we were in high school...I'm not sure if we actually saw each other or we were just being toured around Posadas...)

    I keep reading your stuff, living vicariously through you. God, how I miss home! Thanks for showing me and everyone else the real face of the Philippines. :-)

    -Katz N.

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  16. You're so lucky to have the opportunity to travel around our country. I do believe that before we go out touring other countries, we should get to know local wonders first. It's also good that you're sharing your travel experiences with those who are not so lucky. :) congratulations on a job well done!

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  17. Im very proud of what you are doing! Frankly, this is my first time to see a kababayan who is really working hard to showcase our country. Ironically, the perception of most tourists is that Philippines is a dangerous place to visit...this was brought by media on kidnapping and people power. I want to change this perception by blogging. I think your blog does that and hopefully be a front runner to increase the awareness of Pinoys and foreigners that our country is a better place to stay! I hope we could work together in the near future. I will feature your blog site very soon! Rey

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  18. Hi!
    my husband and I have long been searching for a secluded beach where we can camp out. (hehe, you know...) any ideas??? anywhere in the country. but for a point of reference, we're manila residents.

    Thanks! this is my very first blog ever. first blog I've posted in my life. I'm really hoping to get a good reply.

    cheers,
    Kim

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  19. Anonymous29.12.10

    Great blog !!!

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  20. Anonymous22.1.11

    I Love You. I really do. I would even buy you flowers and dinner for what you have shared with us! Thanks to you I now have a working blog.

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  21. Anonymous22.1.11

    This is the coolest website and stories that i have ever read…its useful for me as im a lecturer and always motivate my students with these publised stories…thank you …and waiting for plenty more…

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  22. Anonymous22.1.11

    Amazing, totally awesome. I am just getting into writing articles myself, nothing remotely close to your writing potential (ha!) but I'd love for you to take my stuff someday!

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  23. Anonymous22.1.11

    I am looking forward to looked over way more of your current well written articles, have a pleasant day!

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  24. How happy I am to read positive comments from foreign tourist(s)who have visited the country. Truly, it's the stigma that hinders more tourists to explore the country. I am hopeful that prejudices will soon be removed.

    Thanks to all bloggers who consistently write good things about the country. God bless :-)

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  25. Congratulations for your great blogs about our country. I agree that the bad image of the Philippines outside of our country is the hindrance to backpackers to come here. The government should exert its best efforts to make a good image and not concentrate on what not so important dialogues and trials...

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