THE Cebu City Tourism Commission (CCTC) is working with business owners in the mountain areas to develop programs aimed at sustaining tourism flow in upland destinations.
This, after businesses along the 33-kilometer Transcentral Highway (TCH), which connects Cebu City to Balamban town, observed declining foot traffic post-Covid-19-pandemic.
“The challenge businesses are facing now in TCH is that malls have opened again and that people are now back in malls,” said Edwin Ortiz, one of the CCTC commissioners.
Ortiz owns the 4.5-hectare Evo Nature Camp located in Barangay Ga-as, Balamban.
“Evo Nature Camp is okay, but it was doing better during the pandemic. We are fortunate because compared to restaurants we have places to stay in. Glamping or glamorous camping is doing pretty well. It’s the walk-ins that suffered a bit similar to other locators,” he said.
Along the TCH route, there are restaurants overlooking Cebu City, vegetable and flower gardens, vacation houses, as well as mountain resorts, among others. The long mountain stretch became popular during the pandemic, as individuals sought open spaces for dining and relaxation. It became the breathing space for city dwellers during that challenging period.
To prevent businesses from further losing revenues due to low customer traffic, Ortiz, who is tasked to oversee the Hilly Land Group, said they are crafting programs to restore and sustain the vibrancy in the area. However, its success relies on the support of stakeholders involved.
“The first order of the day of the new captain in Barangay Ga-as, who happens to be the owner of Buwakan ni Alejandra, is to work together and come up with one product to promote TCH. We are thinking of doing a main activity, similar to Sinulog, where everyone could participate,” he said.
Ortiz, together with some business owners, went to Baguio City to check the Panagbenga Festival, an annual flower festival celebrated every February, to assess the feasibility of organizing a similar event in TCH, given that the livelihood in the area is flower cultivation.
In 2021, the Department of Tourism (DOT) 7 and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 were working proactively alongside the local government units (LGUs) of Cebu City and Balamban to sustain the growth in businesses and promote tourism culture along the TCH.
In 2020, CCTC chairperson Jocelyn Pesquera pledged to put the spotlight on Cebu’s flower farms and mountain resorts to encourage local tourists to re-explore Cebu’s highlands.
Pesquera said 10 barangays have participated in the program dubbed Highland Blooms and Eco-Tourism. These are Barangays Tagbao, Sinsin, Tabunan, Sudlon 1, Sudlon 2, Babag, Buhisan, Bonbon, Budlaan and Adlaon.
This tourism program flaunts the city’s natural sites like falls, caves, pocket forests, eco and flower farms, as well as the various establishments in the mountain barangays.
In a previous interview, DOT 7 Director Shahlimar Tamano said the TCH is becoming a sought-after tourism attraction frequented by leisure guests —bikers, riders, and families.
“We’ve never seen this huge traffic both in business and people than now in TCH. So we, in the DOT, DENR and the two local government units of Cebu City and Balamban, thought of keeping an eye on this rising destination to protect and preserve it,” he said.
Tamano said they have been meeting with the LGU officials to discuss matters concerning the possible “challenges” the destination and its stakeholders might encounter moving forward, particularly in the areas of proper waste disposal, tourism culture, traffic and safety, among others.
“TCH as a destination is making good. Café and restaurant owners are seeing an income increase of 100 percent to 200 percent since the pandemic started. TCH’s scenic views are making Cebuanos endure the one-hour travel from Cebu City almost every day,” said Tamano.