Super typhoon supercharges Monash postgraduate student’s path to sustainable tourism

Imagine a super typhoon – the strongest ever recorded to hit land – wipes out your hometown. What would you do? Most of us wouldn’t know where to start. Lucia Palami is not just anybody.

Lucia unwittingly started on her career path when her hometown of Tacloban in the Philippines was decimated by Super Typhoon Haiyan. While witnessing how limited the town was to accommodate volunteers in the wake of the natural disaster, she stumbled across a deserted building for lease and in desperate need of TLC. ‘I knew I had to act,’ said Lucia. ‘Setting up my hostel was an organic response to the lack of accommodation in my hometown – there’s an influx of volunteers from all over the world with nowhere to stay.’ After a few conversations with the US-based owner and a moratorium on the rent, Lucia found herself with her own hostel.

What started as a volunteer hub, eventually became an ‘every person’ gathering place. ‘After a day full of burying dead bodies, you just want a drink and to talk about something else with people. And that became the natural gathering place for people who were trying to recover from the typhoon,’ said Lucia. ‘A year in, it organically developed into a proper hostel. We didn’t have much capital, so we asked volunteers whether they’d help us decorate in exchange for a beer, a room, or something else. That’s how it naturally evolved. Three years later Lonely Planet named us as the number one accommodation in the region.’

While Lucia’s previous volunteer work had a positive impact on how she reacted to the devastating disaster, she decided to enrol in a Master of International Sustainable Tourism Management at Monash to expand her ability to create supportive communities and collaborative spaces. ‘I wanted to learn how to support social infrastructure of a community, especially those that are most vulnerable to climate change,’ said Lucia.

‘We saw all these people coming in, and saw the power of communal spaces. After the response was over, the hostel became an events space where local artists would gather. This has become my passion: how a community in crisis can come together to create change.’

In the future, Lucia wants to use her hostel and experience to encourage sustainable tourism in the area. ‘I want to use Yellow Doors Hostel as a springboard for providing meaningful interactions and sustainable experiences within our region,’ she said. ‘My hometown, Tacloban, isn’t very well known as a tourist destination, but it has a lot to offer with great surfing spots, nature, and the third largest cave in Asia only a couple of hours away. It has been great for the community to encourage more tourists and backpackers to the area, especially after the typhoon.’

‘I want to keep building on my master’s and my business to provide a platform for bringing people together that is beneficial to the whole community.’

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Master of International Sustainable Tourism Management