All systems go

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We’re all set now. Join us in achieving and celebrating a uniquely Baguio Christmas. In so many words, as only our CTO Alec Mapalo and creative genius Ferdie Balanag can eloquently voice out, we did just that last Monday before the members of the City Council. Moments earlier, while fidgeting in sweaty wait for our turn, memories came flashing back on the last time we appeared before the legislature. That last time was a bad time, despite what we thought should have been a breeze, something that everyone should have no difficulty in agreeing with. But that must have been ages ago, and peeps with me kept on assuring that the breath of fresh air has engulfed the august ambiance of today’s set of lawmakers.

Back to the present. After the infographic-assisted presentation so ably done by the best in the business (take a bow Alec and Ferdie), the questions came in, much of which were routinely expected, queries that we knew were top-of-mind whenever An Enchanting Baguio Christmas was top of table topic. There was one question that we felt was downright rude, totally unexpected, but holding in, we simply let go with down-pat responses. (That’s for another column for another day, better to be in peace in these soul-searching, reflective times.)

Much thanks, much appreciation to our City Council for the swift approval of the events, activities, projects and programs embodying what the Baguio Tourism Council has prepared to celebrate, fittingly in steep dignity and bursting aplomb, the Christmas festival here.

To summarize, a uniquely Baguio Christmas it will be, something that we’re most hopeful we can accomplish and have in fact been feverishly prepping up all these weeks. The goal is crystal clear: Christmas this year in Baguio will be one memorable experience to last a lifetime. Social network posting has been recording record-high tweets, much of which indicating that there’s a groundswell building up towards the Yuletide season.

A Christmas Fair the likes of which have yet to unfold, Light and Sounds synchronically dispensed like no other, well-lighted landscapes, bedecked trees, and well thought out projections audally and visually caressing the senses — all these promise to give residents, visitors and guests the unique experience of being there where it takes place, of being part of something good for treasure troves.

Make no mistake about our determination, steeled in our consciousness since conceiving how Baguio should be at Christmastime, how city-wide, we’d be at our finest moments, when the sights, the sounds, the shrieks will fill the air, when people of all ages will defy barriers and get immersed in the thrills of oneness under one sky, when family ties get renewed in earnest forgiveness and let-go feelings, when friendships and old flames receive newly-lit embers. This is what An Enchanting Baguio Christmas is all about, as now being prepped up. This is what AEBC, as now nomenclature in social network buzzes, will be.

In the end, it is a once-in-a-lifetime treat that all of us deserve by the breath of fresh air sweeping across the city. At day’s end, it’s about bidding farewell to bygone memories, saying hello to resurrected experiences only Baguio can exude. Where else but in Baguio can Baguio memories leap back from nothingness to glowing remembrance? Where else but in Baguio can Christmas be felt and lifted up for the joys and pains of well, just being there with loved ones and once loved?

Conceiving AEBC has not been a walk in the park. Barely a week since I was elected to chair the BTC, we’ve felt that as a fresh start, nothing less than a unique experience should be shared by and among us in the spirit of selfless togetherness. It was comforting to note that key stakeholders in the tourism industry (the legendary ADL foremost, said to be dormant and in decline in recent years, felt the way we did as we begun braving through the odds.

Not much of a choice indeed, as we have taken the cudgels for an industry that has been reeling from south-bound tourism receipts these past several years now. The good news is that there now appears a bull-headed, no-nonsense spirit of collaboration among key sectors, no doubt brought together to make fresh beginnings.
Yet, the better news is everyone seems genuinely spirited, determined to add his and her share to make tourism responsible, disciplined, and well in tune with Baguio’s environment. (Unlike one solitary soul who couldn’t help leaving manners back home.)

We knew where we all were coming from, a diverse, often disparaging path that just had to be taken together. True, we were a motley group, drawn from local government and private capacities, who had nothing but sheer will power to get everything really going, to leave no stone unturned, to brave the fates as if no other fate is left to share, to blaze new trails where others in their time just couldn’t get out of comfortable zones.

An Enchanting Baguio Christmas it will be, a collectively endeavored aspiration capable of launching new untested but triable events on stream, not just in blueprint dreams, but right into on-the-ground realities. To reiterate: AEBC is a product of perspicacity, planned and brain-trusted by minds that think, by hearts that beat caringly for Baguio, by souls that are willing to share time, talent and trust, something others may still be holding in inexplicable mistrust.

The main idea is get everyone on board for a tourism program that goes beyond the rhetoric of bygone years, but hard-nosed enough to realize and overcome the huge challenges to an industry that needs more than the shot in the proverbial arm. The goal is crystal clear: inculcate a culture of caring between and among residents and tourists, sharing each other’s unique experiences for a stay well spent, for days well remembered, for places that are suddenly alive with color, texture, and even triviality.

This Christmas, let everyone share narratives that make up a Baguio story of his own, enough to fill up a grandma’s trove of treasures, enough to make a poignant tear fall, enough to make a critical turnaround for policies that will consequently balance off the economic needs of tourism as against the costly demand for environmental caring of resources that have gone to waste.

About time that we face certain truths. First, that tourism has long been the bread-and-butter life of Baguio’s economy, the main economic driver that has sparked much of the progressive advances we’ve had ever, ever since.
Tourism recovery post-earthquake years has been remarkable (and I say this upfront, regardless who were behind the rising years (my father among them). The upside is that Baguio rose quickly up on its knees and recovered mightily on the economic strength of tourism (and education) when even old-time residents were beginning to slacken in their faith for a city knocked down belly-up.

Of course, there have been downsides to the way that modernization has caused. Of late, residents have been heard to be resentful of what visitors and guests have, wittingly or not, been bringing in too, outside of cold cash.

Economic planners have a term for it: overdevelopment as a result of over-tourism. What these really are, supported by cold data, are as yet unproven. What residents feel are the traffic jams everywhere when tourist influx happens, and lately, these have significantly caused too much of congestion everywhere else, that even puerile hearts just give up.

All these, the Baguio Tourism Council takes good note of, persuaded as their members are that declining tourist receipts — based for instance on reducing hotel occupancy levels in the last two years alone — are hardly a flippant, passing concern. They affect the cash register and everyone else whose daily needs simply rely on how heavy or light the tourist influx is.

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. They may not be housed in the flashy hotels or in budget lodging places, but they must be sheltered in less trying under-the-sky amenities.

Truth to tell: Baguio is Baguio, the mountain resort that has filled every ordinary Filipino’s dream to visit and spend well-managed time to be here, every ordinary family’s aspiration to have memorable visits every now and then, summertime or not. Baguio remains to be a topnotch getaway destination, its cooling climes enough to lure them in at the slightest pretense.

Surely, Baguio’s attraction is not just being a mountain city blessed to be nearest the Philippine skies. It goes beyond the natural air-conditioning system that provides the rejuvenating climes available nowhere else, but hereabouts.

In its fullest essence, Baguio’s allure is the natural environment, something tourists worldwide and nationwide cannot find anywhere else. It’s our mountain resources — the pristine forests, the flowering plants dotting the mountain sides, the majestic thrusts that our pine trees make in an enduring reach-out struggle, the grand panorama of sceneries unmatched anywhere, and the jovial welcoming faces that our own folks are ready to manifest anytime.

Ahead of tough times anytime at all, it’s the message of a Baguio Christmas that should get us through. Hope, joy, peace and much of love magically shared from heart to heart.

Mr and Ms Councilors, you gave your imprimatur to make Baguio Christmas truly enchanting. Thank you most sincerely for backing us up. Makes our day with you an ennobling ride into the future that is here and now. Salamuch po!

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