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Coastal Tourism Development in Philippines: Managing economic, environmental, and socio-cultural sustainability

Miha Alam 

University of Waterloo ,Canada

Globalization has allowed many countries to open their borders and globalize their markets (Porter et al., 2015). One such country is the Philippines, which is a small island country that heavily relies on tourism sector for economic development (Porter et al., 2015). Philippines has a lot to offer as a tourist destination since it houses a variety of UNESCO World Heritage sites, ample of diving sites, rainforests (Porter et al., 2015). Further it is extremely cheap since it has competitive prices, no language barrier (English being widely spoken) and offers medical and health tourism (Porter et al., 2015). The number of visitors to the Philippines has been steadily growing over the last 25 years at an annual rate of 8% (Porter et al., 2015). Given that the Philippines is made up of 7,200 islands, it offers significant opportunity for coastal tourism (Porter et al., 2015). That being said, unplanned coastal tourism management has led to plethora of environmental and social issues such as accelerated beach erosion, deteriorating coastal quality, dumping of solid waste, incidences of infectious diseases, rise in crime and social tensions between locals and tourists (Huttche et. al., 2002).

Theoretically speaking, it asserts that sustainable development is comprised of three aspects; economic sustainability, ecological sustainability and equity. Current research on coastal tourism development in the Philippines exhibits major gaps. Ecological and economic sustainability and economic sustainability and equity are studied in silos. There is major gap in literature that aims to collectively analyze all three aspects of sustainable tourism together. Hence, the aim of this paper is to provide a descriptive overview and current status of positive and negative economic, environmental and socio-cultural implications of coastal tourism on the local communities of the Philippines. It ultimately discusses recommendations that would help the Philippine government manage its economic, environmental and socio-cultural priorities assuming that tourism sector is going to continue to grow in the future.

ECONOMIC ASPECTS: Need to say, travel and tourism is an important component of economic activity in the Philippines (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018). Tourism development contributed to 21.1% of Philippines total GDP in 2017 and is projected to rise to 22.4% of GDP in 2028 (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018). Further, tourism sector directly supported 2 million jobs, which makes 5.8% of the total employment in the Philippines. This is expected to rise by 6.1% in 2028 (8 million jobs). Theoretically speaking, the economic benefits of tourism development have been categorized into three categories; direct, indirect and induced benefits (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018). The direct benefits refer to the internal spending done on tourism (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018). For instance, this reflects spending and development done for accommodation, transportation, entertainment and tourist attractions (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018). Further it includes, economic gains that result from accommodation services, food and beverages services, retail services, transportation services and cultural and recreation services (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018). Lastly, it accommodates all the spending done by the main stakeholders; residents, businesses, visitors and the government (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018). Indirect economic benefits reflect tourism investment spending, government tax and lastly spending done by suppliers of tourism (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018). Finally, induced economic benefits resulting from tourism development result from spending done by employees on food, recreation, clothing, housing and household goods (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018).

Several case studies and research show that coastal tourism development led to mostly positive economic impacts in Philippines; coastal development led to livelihood change and employment, local entrepreneurship, infrastructure development, increased municipal revenue and lastly, increase in local cost of living.

Livelihood Change, Employment & Pro-poor strategy: The tourism sector happens to the most labor-intensive sector after the agricultural sector in the Philippines. It happened to be the industry that allowed most coastal communities to shift from agricultural (fishermen) related job to the tourism sector jobs (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018). Descriptive statistics show that the tourism sector in the Philippines has become twice as labor intensive than the agricultural sector (Dressler, 2010). Tourism development serves as a catalyst to variety of jobs ranging from air traffic control to hotel construction to retail stores. All the employees in the tourism sector collectively earn 1.9 trillion annually in wages (Dressler, 2010) and results in more than 270 billion per year in form of income tax.

Although tourism development is considered as a “pro-poor strategy” which means that tourism industry is a sector that provides job alternatives to low wage jobs, it is a huge misconception that travel and tourism sector jobs are low skill and low wage jobs (Giselle et al., 2007). Tourism sector generates jobs across all the employment sectors as well as at all levels of hierarchy. Career potential and training exists at all levels. That being said, research shows that larger, more developed and more diversified domestic economies are better able to stabilize the market and meet the demands of all tourists (high end tourism vs. traditional tourism) (Dressler, 2010).

Theoretical lens of tourism being a pro-poor strategy also says that tourism leads to local entrepreneurship for instance local restaurants, sari-sari stores, furniture making, handicrafts, laundry services and such. Overall a 10% growth rate in the tourist sector led to a 7.8% growth rate in non-tourism sectors in the Philippines in 2010. Nevertheless, a study done in five coastal areas in northern Philippines reveals that while tourism development has a positive macro level impact on the employment sector, low-income coastal communities that are highly dependent on tourism as well as resources are extremely vulnerable to seasonal income changes (Gier et al., 2017). This study revealed that most coastal community members rely on microfinance loans and the non-profit sector’s livelihood programs in order to stabilize their small businesses (Gier et al., 2017). Hence, many at times, the local entrepreneurs land up in debt and end up going back to their agricultural jobs (Gier et al., 2017).  

Infrastructure Development: General trends dictate that steady growth in tourism triggers investments in domestic infrastructure and public goods which is not just beneficial for the tourists, but also for the locals (Dressler, 2010). Conversely, a study compared how Philippines fares as a travel destination compared to other Southeast Asian countries (Dressler, 2010). The study revealed that Philippines ranks lowest in the Southeast Asia region in terms of infrastructure development within the realm of tourism (Dressler, 2010). The main international airport in Manila is called the Ninoy Aquino Airport (NAIA), which has outdated facilities and is handling way more passengers than its carrying capacity (Dressler, 2010). Further, Philippines is poorly connected. The number of foreign carrier-flights per week to the Philippines is far too low (Dressler, 2010). For comparison sake, Philippines receives about one-third of flights that Thailand receives (Dressler, 2010). Additionally, there is only one direct flight between Europe and the Philippines, which is in Amsterdam (Dressler, 2010). To aggravate the issue, Philippines also lacks good domestic roads and railway network. Given that Philippines is comprised of 7,200 islands, the only option to get from the furthest north point to the furthest south points is either a bus or a car (Dressler, 2010). This 350-kilometer journey would require 15 hours (Dressler, 2010). Weak infrastructure leaves Philippines behind its competitors in the tourism sector.

Increased municipal revenue: As mentioned, tourism sector provides an additional stream for tax collection. The tourism industry has resulted in a sizeable impact to the Philippines as it results in more than 270 billion per year in form of income tax (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2018).

Increased cost of living: Despite the fact that economic development results in increase in inflation, a study done in five coastal communities located in northern Philippines revealed that various variables such as price of fish, food, electricity, water, fruit, souvenirs and clothes were higher in tourism developed sites when compared to non-touristic sites within the same coastal community (Gier et al., 2017). This is due to the fact that merchants can get paid more for the products from tourists than locals (Gier et al., 2017). Some members of the coastal communities mentioned in their interview that they could no longer afford to eat fish because the prices were too high for typical seasonal worker wage Gier et al., 2017). However, at the same time, the merchants and local entrepreneurs experienced an increase in local household disposable income (Lasso et al., 2018). The study highlighted that there were growing income disparities within the local communities due to tourism development (Lasso et al., 2018). 

ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS: Tourism development has created a huge demand for high quality facilities and services, namely, water, electricity, telecommunications, accommodation, transportation, businesses, sewage and solid waste disposal and much more (Othman et al., 2012). To meet these tourist demands for economic gains, much of the land has to be sacrificed for infrastructural development. Logically, this is detrimental towards the ecological systems as it leads to destruction of rich biodiversity that exists in Philippines, especially the coastal areas (Othman et al., 2012). Climate change effects, rapid tourism development, population increase and urbanization further add to the complexities and hamper the environment.

 Philippines consists of extremely rich biodiversity including sandy beaches, coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands, estuaries, lagoons, sea grass and such (Huttche et. al., 2002). The Philippines’ tropical climate and 18,000-coast line have made it a significant area for coastal tourism (Huttche et. al., 2002). Coastal tourism in Philippines is a nexus of two complex systems; the tourism system and the coastal system. Due to close interactions between natural system  (coastal development) and the human systems (tourism development), there are strong detrimental impacts on the environment such as beach erosion, water and air pollution, over fishing and resource pressure, traffic congestion, wildlife disturbances, poor disposal of solid waste and sewage systems (Huttche et al., 2002). Needless to say, to mitigate the effects of rapid coastal tourism, which is further complicated by climate change, population increase and urbanization, correct environment and resource, planning is required (Othman et al., 2012). 

Water and Air Pollution: Time and time again, the Philippines national news has reported about degrading water quality in coastal areas. Numerous water toxicity reports have revealed that water is unsafe for drinking, unsafe for bathing and unsafe for recreational activities due to high levels of coliform bacteria. There is presence of microbes as well as micro plastics that are extremely harmful to human health as they can lead to diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, and skin disorders (Huttche et al., 2002). Further, water contamination also results from the fact that wastewater is insufficiently treated as it flows from small-scale septic tanks and is discharged right into the sea. 

Air pollution has been caused by construction, exploration of land, increase in motor vehicles and traffic congestion, increase in waste disposal into the sea, and such (Othman et al., 2012). All these abrasive activities lead to fumes, dust, and poisonous gases, which affect the health of tourists and locals as well, the environment (Othman et al., 2012).

Resource Pressure: It has been noted that coastal tourism contributes to resource pressure. Moreover, the low-income coastal community members mainly face these pressures. A study interviewed 256 individuals living in Bien Unido, one major coastal province in Philippines. These individuals explained that they are facing increased pressure on natural resources. Overfishing of tilapia fish eventually crowded out businesses for other fisheries as well. Unfortunately, the current management plans consider resource pressures, and business crowd out minor in front of the economic benefits of coastal tourism. Needless to say, the municipal government should not only manage resource pressure but also develop alternative livelihood projects in order to secure employment for local businesses (Gier et al., 2017).

Coral degradation and Beach Erosion: There are many aspects of tourism development that result in beach erosion. A combination of unregulated construction and tourism development, natural phenomena and effects of global warming has resulted in coral degradation and beach erosion.  A UNESCO National Committee on marine science did a study in 2009 that revealed that rate of erosion is a threat to the island especially to the tourism industry (Servando, 2009). Sand mining and construction of seawalls due to infrastructure expansion (such as extension of airport runway), increased silation and sedimentation from coastal construction, pollutants from waste and sewage discharge, discharge of large volumes of freshwater from storm-water drains, overfishing for local tourist restaurants, and damages to mangroves ecosystem that results in greater wave action on the shore are all examples that lead to coral damages and beach erosion (Huttche et al., 2002).

Overfishing and Fisheries depletion: Increase in coastal tourism density in Philippines has put a lot of pressure on marine biodiversity (Yang, 2017). The case of overfishing is evident and well documented due to increase in local restaurants across the coastal areas in the country (Yang, 2017). The issue of overfishing is much more sensitive due to the fact that 1) it is highly correlated to social and economic wellbeing of local coastal communities and 2) it is an economic surplus generating sector in trade for the Philippines (Yang, 2017). Although the problem of overcapacity is well-realized, destructive fishing gear, pollution, climate change, mismanagement of fisheries all exacerbate the issue of fisheries depletion. According to the study conducted by Yang (2017), 86% of the fisheries in Philippines are fully exploited, overexploited or have collapsed already. To add to the complexity, social traditions such as ‘sending money back home’ triggered the fishermen to generate more revenue. This also results in exploitation of local resource as well as increases resource pressure (Yang, 2017).

Current status and policies: Briefly speaking, the Philippines government has spearheaded into introducing necessary policies and has initiated a series of cleanup programs that aim to improve environment sustainability of the coastal regions. These policies and programs are listed as follows:

  1. Building local municipal control
  2. Nature conservation
  3. Controlling level of beach erosion
  4. Solid Waste management
    1. Waste disposal methods/ waste bins/ waste collection programs
  5. Waste water treatment plans
  6. Water-saving practices
  7. Energy saving practices
  8. Recycling practices
  9. Air pollution
  10. Water pollution
    1. Water pollution index and water toxicity levels
  11. Noise pollution
  12. Traffic congestion

These initiatives and programs are more conservation oriented and focus on conserving water and electricity to conserve energy, lessen pollution. These strateies also focus on solid waste segregation in order to encourage an effetive sewage treatment system. Most importantly, this program enforces vartical and horizontal integration of stakeholders in order to enforce sustainable envrionmental management (Ong et. al., 2011). 

That being said, the broader challenges associated with sustainability have not been well examined by the government (Ong et. al., 2011). Not a lot of progress has been made on water quality and the capacity of sewage systems. This is due to privatization of tourism development. The public sector and the civil society has less influence on the sustainability practices associated with tourism development due to the fact that the private sector has the most power when it comes to tourism management. Small businesses are not connected to the central sewage systems; they have their own septic tanks and illegally discharging sewage into the storm drain and the sea. As mentioned, this leads to inefficiency in the water drainage system, causes water contamination and contributes to water-borne infectious diseases. This is just one small example of mismanagement and uncontrolled tourism development. A study by Goh and Yusoff (2010) assert the same sentiments; they say that successful implementation of sustainable practices is heavily dependent on institutions being assigned in the management. Due to the nature of private sector and the fact that tourism development in the Philippines has been highly privatized, there aren’t many incentives for the private sector to be more cognizant of environmental sustainability (Othman et al., 2012). Section 4 will delve into greater details around environmental sustainability and current management policies.

SOCIO-CULTURAL ASPECTS: The human dimensions to tourism development and sustainability is a tale less told and captured in tourism research (Ong et al., 2011). Much less has been documented in Philippines research when it comes to social and cultural aspects of tourism development (Ong et al., 2011). Note that social and cultural aspects discussed in this section are not referring to the Filipino culture on the macro level. Instead, it is referring to culture on the micro-level; it refers to tourism’s impact on local coastal communities’ cultures.  Given rapid tourism development, social and cultural changes in the local community are imminent. A study was conducted to study social and cultural changes in several coastal communities in Boracay, which is the most popular island in the Philippines for tourism due to its white sandy beaches (Ong et al., 2011). The study revealed that while there was a strong correlation between increase in number of resorts and decrease in number of people in poverty, the gap between the nation average income and the low wage tourism jobs was increasing (Ong et al., 2011). This reflects incidence of income disparity within the country (Ong et al., 2011). Further, it highlights that women’s status within the community has risen and more women were becoming local entrepreneurs and had access to micro loans in order to stabilize their businesses (Ong et al., 2011). Nevertheless, a few respondents also revealed that prostitution and sex trade was booming in Boracay (Ong et al., 2011). Even though prostitution has been banned since 2002, many females condone to sex work due to competition in employment sector (Ong et al., 2011). Majority of the respondents also claimed that overall quality of life had improved (Ong et al., 2011). That being said, awareness and preservation of local cultural tradition and values was decreasing. This is because tourism can erode traditional values of the host country since local people who are providers of tourism are forced to provide a western style of service (Ong et al., 2011). For instance, workers are required to adopt the western communication style, the accent, and the clothes (Ong et al., 2011). In this way, their own culture is highly minimized (Ong et al., 2011). Increased commercialization of cultural events and traditions also reduce the authenticity and value of the culture for the locals; not to mention, this also results in exoticism of the Filipino culture (Ong et al., 2011). The study also captured the local communities’ perception of tourism development. The study disclosed that there is an increase in the local resentment towards tourists because there was increase in cases of disrespect for local values, religious beliefs by tourists (Ong et al., 2011).

Effect of Migrant workers: Change in culture and tradition is further aggravated by migration. Accelerate growth in tourism development attracts a large number of people from other parts of Philippines due to employment opportunities. Approximately 40% of the total Boracay population are migrant workers (Ong et al., 2011). Most migrant workers work in the informal sector as vendors and construction workers in Boracay. Despite such a large percentage, the migrant workers are looked at as the number one social issue by the local community leaders (Barangay) since it triggers competition for employment, don’t pay taxes and pose threat to land settlements (Ong et al., 2011). There are rising social tensions between the locals and the migrants (Ong et al., 2011). Moreover, migration has also contributed to population growth due to marriages over time. This puts pressure on basic resources especially basic necessities such as water, housing, health, education and such (Ong et al., 2011).

Treatment of Indigenous Populations: Tourism development has further marginalized the indigenous community of Ati people in Boracay (Ong et al., 2011). Ati people are not benefitting equally from tourism development at all; due to complicated land rights and indigenous lifestyles, the Ati people have resorted to begging and slightly more humane, beach cleaners (Ong et al., 2011).

Incidence of Crime: Tourism development and crime have reversal correlation. Tourism development leads to increase in incidence of crime due to increase in population and increase in local resentment towards tourists. Similarly, increase in incidents of crime has skewed the security perceptions of the tourists, which has led to decrease in number of visitors since 2000s. A number of significant incidences including disasters that were reported by the international news led to slight decrease in number of visitors. These incidents range from severely acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2004 to ongoing struggle with domestic terrorism, hostage of journalists in the South in 2009 and the Ondoi floods in 2008 and such (Dressler, 2010).

COASTAL MANAGEMENT AND SUSTAINABLE TOURISM: Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) is overall approach that addresses the issues created by the development in coastal areas. It basically focuses on planning for resource management and coastal development (Huttche et al., 2002). Its strategies are coincided with human development activities as well as the natural coastal environment (Huttche et al., 2002). Due to the widespread coastal resource depletion in the Philippines, the need for effective ICM is desperately required (Huttche et al., 2002). Several reformations have been made in coastal management in the Philippines in order to slower down coastal degradation (Huttche et al., 2002). These new reformations are as follows:

Bottom up approach and stakeholder Integration: Given democracy, the government encourages community level participation and builds on the models of bottom up approaches (Huttche et al., 2002). The local governments manage their coastal environments. Effective stakeholder participation also exists across board. All institutions concerned with coastal tourism development such as government, NGOs, international donors and resort owners usually collaborate (Huttche et al., 2002). That being said, many times the local governments don’t have the necessary technical knowledge about coastal environments, budgeting, and such to achieve ICM practices (Huttche et al., 2002).

Education and Communication Strategies: Current ICM strategies reveal that locals have a good understanding of issues related to coastal management. Philippines government fares well when it comes to local knowledge about climate change and disaster vulnerability (Huttche et al., 2002). Many locals stay up to date via education programs in schools and media campaigns (Huttche et al., 2002).

Integrated Approach: As mentioned, effective levels of integration guide ICM practices. There is high level of collaboration between the three levels of government; the municipal, city and provincial (Huttche et al., 2002). Further, there is trust and cohesion between the local governments, NGOs, coastal communities, academia, private sectors, tourism providers such as surfer guides and local artisans and even bloggers (Huttche et al., 2002). Within the government, the department of environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the department of Tourism (DOT) are all heavily involved (Huttche et al., 2002). All these governmental units together made decisions on overall facilitation and coordination, developing coastal mapping, incorporating comprehensive fisheries management, maintaining a coastal database, implementing alternative sources of livelihood for coastal communities, enforce coastal laws, implement revenue generation and lastly, monitor site specific research (Huttche et al., 2002). It is important to note that coastal management thoroughly conducts environmental impact assessments, implements strategies for endangered wildlife, shoreline, marine protected areas, marine tourism areas, ecotourism, and solid waste disposal systems (Huttche et al., 2002).

While the ICM practices in coastal areas fare strongly in terms of integrated management, bottom up approaches and education, it still doesn’t mean that it is achieving sustainable levels of tourism. First and foremost, sustainable tourism calls for integration between natural, cultural and human contexts (Ong et al., 2011). ICM focuses heavily on the environmental and ecological aspects of coastal tourism. It discounts the impact coastal tourism has on local communities. A study conducted by International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management, which is a US based organization conducted a two-year evaluation of ICM practices in Philippines (Ong et al., 2011). It depicted that ICM practices still lack community ownership and control over coastal resources and management (Ong et al., 2011). Although there are instances of bottom up approaches, the coastal community members do not have a fair access to coastal and fisheries resources (Ong et al., 2011). Further, due to increase in competition and resource pressure, the community and the local municipal government needs to provide alternative employment streams especially given the fact that sex tourism is on the rise in the Philippines (Ong et al., 2011). Lastly, the benefits of tourism are also not distributed equally among all members of the community. The study suggested that one of the main factors that coastal management boils down to is level of impact of tourists (Huttche et al., 2002). Tourists can be categorized as low-impact and high-impact tourists (Huttche et al., 2002). The problems aren’t exacerbated with low impact visitors. The challenges with environmental degradation exasperate due to high-impact visitors who demand high-end tourism. Due to this demand, larger resorts create man-made enclaves with artificial beaches and lagoons (Huttche et al., 2002). This not only leads to high volume of coastal area being used without any sort of environmental planning but also, results in beach erosion and resource pressure and has negative social and cultural implications (Huttche et al., 2002).

CONCLUSION: The Philippines has an extremely ad hoc approach to sustainable tourism. In general the tourism development policies (tourism related policies that are not specific to coastal management) pertain to relaxation of visa requirements, strengthening of public-private partnerships, increase in training institutions that follow European hospitality models and lastly, more regulatory rules in terms of environmental protection. This clearly shows that the Philippines government still perceives the economic gains to be more significant over negative implication on social and environmental factors. The government aims to further develop its tourism sector and make it competitive in the South Asian market.

To summarize, tourism development has led to significant economic gains in the coastal areas. The tourism sector led to significant increase in employment, local entrepreneurship, increase in quality of living standards, and increase in municipal revenue. It didn’t however lead to effective infrastructure development in the Philippines. More importantly, the economic benefits are not distributed equally among the coastal populations. The income disparity is increasing among resort owners and then local tourism providers, fishermen, and small business owners. Further, small business owners rely heavily on microloans and livelihood programs organized by non-profits in order to stabilize their businesses. Moving onto environmental factors, tourism development has a pretty detrimental impact on the coastal area ecology and biodiversity. Tourism development multiplied with climate change effects has resulted in coral and beach erosion, resource pressure, water and air pollution, rise in infectious diseases, overfishing and fisheries depletion and ineffective sewage and solid waste disposal methods. Lastly, tourism development has mixed implications on socio—cultural factors. Tourism development has resulted in paramount cultural changes (Ong et al., 2011). Although tourism has improved incidences of poverty, women’s status, and overall improvement in quality of life, traditional values and culture has been eroded and sex tourism has gained a lot of attention (Ong et al., 2011). Social tensions are rising between tourists and locals (Ong et al., 2011). Similarly, social tensions are rising among migrant workers and the locals as well (Ong et al., 2011). Incidences of maltreatment of Indigenous populations and crime are also on the rise.

As mentioned earlier, Philippines disregards the negative socio-cultural impacts that tourism has on its society (Gier et al., 2017). Most policies aggressively alleviate any barriers to economic gains and coastal management strategies extremely focus on the environmental aspects. It is evident that sustainable tourism is contingent upon economic, environmental and the social factors. Economically speaking, the Philippines needs to maintain its market competitiveness in order to seek the economic gains that it has been enjoying so far. To increase its tourism competitiveness, Philippines needs to focus on building its transportation infrastructure given that the roads, public transportation, and airports are in deplorable state. Philippines needs to also focus on developing its own brand name. Compared to its other competitors such as Indonesia and Thailand, Philippines lacks a strong international marketing campaign. While ensuring economic and infrastructural growth, Philippines needs to be cognizant of the fact that tourism development will only be sustainable if it operates within the boundaries of its carrying capacity. Its sustainable tourism development needs to integrate social and environmental factors. While Philippines generally fares well in terms of coastal management policies, it needs to develop the management policies not just in terms of tourism development but also in terms of climate change and disaster risks (Gier et al., 2017). Ultimately, greater attention needs to be given to social and cultural sustainability (Gier et al., 2017). Tourism development needs to ensure that it is meeting the triple bottom line; there needs to be more frequent energy audits in the high-end and privatized tourism services in coastal areas, better monitoring of energy use, water consumption and waste disposal, more regulatory shoreline management practices, proactive planning for environmental quality standards, enforcement of appropriate scale for infrastructure planning and lastly, better distribution of the benefits and burdens of tourism development.

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