A LAUNCHING of tourism pushed through on the heels of a spike in infections in Baguio City.

Led by Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat, the launch of the Ridge and Reef Travel Corridor with stakeholders on Tuesday, September 22, signaled the opening of bookings for tourists wanting to visit the Baguio-La Union-Pangasinan and Ilocos areas in a gradual opening of borders.

Registration via the Baguio Visitors Information and Travel Assistance (VISTA) platform has been opened for visitors, who will only be allowed into the city by October.

Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong said daytime and do-it-yourself (DIY) tours will still not be allowed to avoid the possible spread of the novel coronavirus, stressing only guided tours will be permitted in the initial stage of the opening of tourism.

Before the launch, the city saw the highest recorded Covid-19 cases on Sunday, with 43 individuals infected. On Monday, another 15 cases were reported, with a bulk of infections coming from the Slaughterhouse compound.

Baguio on Tuesday, recorded 200 confirmed active Covid-19 cases, with 12 deaths and 394 recoveries. This brought the total to 606 cases since the start of the pandemic.

Magalong said the outbreak of Covid-19 cases in Slaughterhouse Compound and Lourdes Subdivision Extension is a cause of concern, compelling him to declare a hard lockdown in the areas to prevent the further spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the closure of three golf clubs in the city pushed the indefinite postponement of the 11th Baguio Day tournament, citing the sharp increase of Covid-19 cases.

It was not confirmed if any staff member of the Baguio Country Club, Camp John Hay and Pinewoods golf clubs were infected.

Magalong said the decision to move back the entry of tourists availing of the guided tours was reached to allow the city to make the needed adjustments on the technical issues on its online registration platform and observe health developments.

Only 200 tourists a day will be allowed to determine the capacity of the tourism industry stakeholders in handling an influx of tourists.

The Baguio Vista online registration was established through the assistance of the Tourism Promotions Board (TBP), one of the attached agencies of the Department of Tourism (DOT) in charge of the marketing and promotions of tourism in the different parts of the country.

An alliance was marked in September with neighboring provinces on the slow return of tourism through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Representative to the Ilocos Sur Second District Kristine Singson Mehan, Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino Jr., Ilocos Norte Governor Mathew Marcos Manotoc and Ilocos Norte Governor Ryan Luis Singson, who all agreed to partner with the city to craft “tourism bubbles” and package tours that adheres to health protocols.

Signatories to the MOU were Department of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat, Tourism Promotions Board Chief Operating Officer Maria Antoinette Velasco Allones, Task Force on Domestic Tourism Product and Market Development administrator and chairperson Guiller Asido, Baguio Tourism Council Chair Gladys Vergara–De Vera, Department of Tourism (DOT)–Cordillera Administrative Region Officer-In-Charge Jovita Ganongan and DOT-Ilocos Region Director Joseph Francisco Ortega.

Tourists will be prohibited to visit the Baguio Public Market, as the area is one of the most crowded sites in the city, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba and Tublay will also be closed to city visitors to respect the decisions of neighboring towns in sealing their areas from tourists.

The three-phase tourism endeavor will start with interested travelers from local governments involved in the corridor before it will be gradually and cautiously be opened to visitors coming from Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and, tourists coming from the different parts of the country by the end of the year. (With reports from the City Public Information Office)