Tourism: The way into the future

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I long been the bread-and-butter life of Baguio’s economy, the main economic driver that has sparked much of the advances we’ve had ever, ever since. Lately, however, residents have been heard to be resentful of what visitors and guests have, wittingly or not, been causing hereabouts. Traffic jams everywhere, noisy pubs and bars at night, dwindling water supply from household taps. Name it, and every cuss word may have been cast their way.

Yes, it’s plain commonsense that tourism — the great swelling crowds that come up here every little chance they get — may just need something of a re-direction in the way we bring and attract them all in. On super-events like Christmas, Panagbenga, and the summertime episodes of city life, they come in huge droves, on land, made in abbreviated fashion by a relaxing 3-1/2 hour drive through expressways that have been created. On just about any ordinary day, they still come up, admittedly in reduced numbers, but they still do. Let’s be candid about it: Baguio remains to be a topnotch getaway destination, its cooling climes enough to lure them in at the slightest pretense.

WHAT CAN we do to ensure that the tourism future ahead be well-secured, well enough for economic windfalls to reach our children and theirs to enjoy? We do have something precious for visitors to enjoy, to cherish, and to talk about in abject comparison to resort and retreat places so aplenty down under, but nothing really of our city’s rejuvenating ambience.

Thursday this week, we seem to have made a fresh starting point. The Baguio Tourism Council board of directors met and talked things through. In a meeting held coming on the heels of electing interim officers (with me as Chairperson, and the City Mayor BBM as co-chair, and Vice-Chair Anthony de Leon), the group began plotting out vital concerns that may well push key stakeholders into specific strategies and plans of action.

Initially up for detailed technical planning are a Tourism Summit set for October (that’s next month already), a European-inspired Christmas Festival for the Yuletide Season where every planned program or activity will run from a dominant thematic concept, and a Tourism Development Plan that will serve as the over-arching umbrella for future activities. Legislative work was also initiated to accept and initially deliberate on amendments meant to update the 10-year-old Revised Tourism Code, which has been serving as the policy regulator for tourism thrusts.

It’s about time that tourism direction be fleshed out now, not just in sensitive consideration to residents’ sentiments, but precisely to keep us in line with global trends now dictating the tempo, style, and substance of tourism initiatives. Strategies that have long been the established norms in plotting tourism drives do need to be re-visited in keeping with the times, made more relevant by environmental needs.

That is why it makes absolutely good sense to hear other voices — not just mine and yours — for our city’s tourism campaign to accept fresh initiatives in terms of policy, people, facilities, standards, and events, which is what tourism is all about. Fortunately, Baguio will always serve as a magnetizing charm anytime, anywhere, a shining example of family-oriented tourism that has been its hallmark all along.

A small city, in contrast to lowland cities, Baguio has managed to be above the usual combustible fray common in other places. Friendliness has even cultivated a culture of enduring friendships between residents and visitors, despite the recent travails of just spending a day or two in our midst.

Truth to tell,Baguio’s natural environment cannot escape being up there in our tourism concerns, serving as our very lifeline bridging our past, present, and future needs. After all, if there’s a cause of legitimate concern that merits discussions and actions to be taken, it should be Baguio’s environmental situation that has hugged national limelight in recent years, without having to overstate the unchecked over-development that has degraded much of our natural resources.

Talk of tourism facilities and immediately what come across are the places where tourists stay, whether these are high-priced hotels, or budget-conscious inns and lodging places, or even campsites where overnight accommodations are closest to nature. Necessarily, we must know what plans there are to ensure that water, a most vital need, comes off many a faucet more times in a day. Since way back when, water lack has always been a foremost issue, as local water authorities grappled for years in battling the growing deficit. The city’s aquifers have languished far too long to generate more of it, no doubt resulting from less and less trees nestling our forest cover. Watersheds well-placed in many sites continue to be besieged by unwanted, but uncontrolled intrusions by the homeless in us just wanting to have a piece of Baguio property to their name, even if based on mere factual circumstance.

Of late, Baguio’s fresh air has come down to perilous levels, given the daily bombardment of toxic fumes from dirty energy-fueled motorized conveyances. Respiratory ailments have since afflicted the vulnerable among us, mostly the elderlies and the very young, exposed as they have been to the poisonous air. Strolling right in the heart of the city’s downtown area has in fact become a punishment, not because of the up-and-down trod, but mostly due to the bad air besieging the walkways, ejected uncontrollably by diesel-run vehicles on non-stop waiting gears.

We all know that these and other concerns are on our City Mayor’s plate that make up his 15-point collective core agenda. He is cognizant of what city tourism is all about, more so in these times when the need is to re-direct strategies more than capable of winning tourists wherever they hail from. First-timers or repeat visitors, they will still come for even the flimsiest reason, if only because there’s nothing like Baguio to be endearing to where we all come from: Mother Nature at its finest.

The bottom line is we’ll just do what is right. No ifs and buts, Baguio deserves to be up there in every tourists’ heart.

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