For modelling sustainable tourism and local community empowerment
Billie and Ann Dumaliang are sisters who you’ll most likely find in the rainforests of Rizal, a province in the Philippines. Why? Well, they run Masungi, a 450-hectare award-winning georeserve which allows visitors to bask in the beauty of nature and come close to wild flora and fauna, without the environmental footprint that tourism usually involves. Masungi is probably the sustainable tourism destination of your dreams: a biodiverse sanctuary for hundreds of native wildlife species, it’s one for the outdoorsy types among us.
But the land the sisters manage didn’t always look this way. It was damaged and depleted because of quarrying and deforestation, and the sisters, protecting it against illegal quarries and loggers, rewilded and are still rewilding the land. In fact, Masungi’s transformed so much that it’s become a model for privately driven conservation, sustainable reforestation, and geotourism: all while educating the community and benefiting the local economy. The Masungi Georeserve Foundation focuses on using geotourism and the geopark model as a bottom-up approach to conservation, growth, and rural development. Talk about regenerative tourism!
How did they do it? In the late 1990s, there was a land-grabbing epidemic, which caused the land and its surrounding areas to be deforested. Ann and Billie dreamt to restore back the forests and transform it into a space where nature comes first and humans interact with their surroundings mindfully. Many people were turned off by the location and idea in the beginning, which made growth and finances hard. But as time went on, and Ann and Billie kept fighting for what they believed in, restoration and regeneration have been happening—trees are growing bigger, biodiversity more diverse, and most importantly, people have become more aware of the importance of conservation and living in harmony with the land.
In fact, today, Masungi employs many people who were previously active in land exploitation, which means that these people have been empowered by Ann and Billie to do good for the land, and the communities living around it. Not only does Masungi preserve ancient limestone formations and hundreds of plant and animal species, many of which are endangered, it even provides clean water to nearby communities. By bringing together conservation, education and sustainable development, Ann and Billie have created a little slice of heaven that’s on its way to showing us how a harmonious coexistence of man and nature is possible.
Today, Ann and Billie are partnering with activists to begin online campaigns on environmental issues that are occurring around the country, and have also recently launched Visita, an app and web platform aimed at empowering ecotourist managers and travellers—increasing their impact in the environmental space.
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