Mapalo: Tourism matters... especially now

(Restor) Responsible and Sustainable Tourism

REGIONAL police director Brig. Gen. R'win Pagkalinawan, at the start of their campaign to promote tourist sites in the Cordillera, through their weekly flag ceremony, said that it is important that we revive quickly but prudently Baguio's tourism industry. He acknowledges the massive loss in livelihood due to the absence of tourism. "There's a theory that economic distress can drive people to crimes," he said. It's a grim way to look at it, but yes, it can happen.

In our city, tourism was supposed to be a P1.4 billion industry in gross receipts if we'll just look at the peak summer season of February to May, which we missed out. I even surmise that that figure may just be minimum. And the truth is, there was never really a "lean" tourism season in Baguio. We always had tourists the whole year-round, even during the rainy season. So if we'll consider the total tourist arrivals of the entire year of 2019, tourism brought in P4 billion minimum in gross receipts, providing livelihood and employment to thousands of people, in and outside of Baguio, either directly or indirectly.

Nationally, tourism contributed 12.7% to the GDP in 2019, employing 5.7 million directly, and brought in 3 trillion pesos as revenues to the government. Tourism's economic impact is something that cannot be denied.

It's disheartening to hear some news of local businessmen having to suffer massive losses twice. When the lockdown started in March, their inventory for summer, stocked up earlier, was all gone wasted. Recently, when lockdowns started to ease up, they started stocking up again with full hope that we're on our way to recovery. But then, Covid-19 cases started to increase, it's lockdown all over again and not even the locals can patronize their goods. That's a hurtful double whammy! These are real situations that actually give many businesses not many options except to close down.

But what's more hurtful is that whenever we talk about tourism and opening up our economy, many react negatively as if we just want to open the city and flood it with tourists without regard to health and safety, as if we only care about money! It's actually the opposite. We talk about tourism because we want to be prepared, finding out how we can gradually open the economy, through tourism, with strict implementation and monitoring of health protocols. And there's no better time than now to rethink what we can do as the past four months gave us a lot of realizations and learnings, perhaps signaling that we might have not properly managed tourism very well in the past.

So today is the "reset" button. We need to talk about tourism because it matters, especially now that we have a chance to pivot our directions towards more responsible and sustainable tourism, a chance to reboot economy with stricter guidelines and standards, and a chance to elevate our tourism products, offerings and services, practically offering a "new Baguio." On several occasions, we've consulted with stakeholders, experts, and local and national officials. And there's a consensus of what we want for Baguio at this time - that is to help each other rise up from the difficulties by building back better. So with that, we talk about many things that we may have not done well in the past, learn from it, and reboot to make them better. Baguio tourism in the past has not been at its best, even worse as others may say. So, it matters that we talk about it, discuss how we can do it better for the locals, the residents, the visitors, and yes, for the economy.


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