IT'S been almost four months now since the government announced a national quarantine. These are supposed to be Baguio’s peak season for tourists. Last year, the number of tourist arrivals for these four months (March to June), as per submitted hotel check-in data, was 517,107. And considering a survey that says each tourist spends P2,700 per visit, per person, we can estimate that P1.4 billion of potential gross tourist receipts did not come in this year. That amount could have been what went to the salaries of employees and income of tourism businesses and their suppliers, spread across different sectors including the events, entertainment, and creative sectors.
In a life-changing moment, the city that thrived and prospered as a popular tourist destination is suddenly struggling. No tourists mean no business, no income, no livelihood. From accommodation establishments alone, around 4,000 employees are affected and fearing possible retrenchment. Victory Liner, a tourism partner of North Luzon destinations, has already laid off 400 employees. In Burnham Park, there are around 250 concessioners, aides, vendors, guides and photographers, who currently have no source of income. According to DOT-CAR OIC Jovi Ganongan, 12 ESL (English as Second Language) schools, now recognized as a growing tourism sector with foreign students as their market, had displaced 1,048 teachers and employees.
The Baguio Tourism Council is conducting a survey that will assess the impact of this pandemic to tourism-oriented establishments. And so far, 33 businesses are saying that they will have no other option but to shut down operations. One of our favorite home-grown restaurants, Forest House Bistro and Café, which closed recently, may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Yes, the struggle is real. Employment, livelihood, and business revenue are at an all-time low. And the effect will trickle down to city revenue – no business means no taxes. Even the Philippine National Police looked at it from a different perspective, unemployment could mean more crimes. Depressing times indeed. And experts are saying that it will take two years for things to get “normal” again.
If there is some flicker of hope that can motivate us all over again, there are three things that I know of so far. First, there’s a TPB (Tourism Promotions Board) survey that says Baguio is one of the top 3 preferred destinations of domestic travelers when border controls ease up. No worry about the future market? I’ll discuss more of that in my next articles. Second, perhaps it’s what many will be interested in, the city is rolling out a P100 million financial stimulus package for micro-small and medium enterprises, via zero-interest loans.
Lastly, and more importantly, the resilient spirit and volunteerism of the people of Baguio are very strong. Only for that, there is hope and together as one, we can and must remain hopeful.