The Cordillera region is a premier ecotourism destination because of its well-The Cordillera region is a premier ecotourism destination because of its well- preserved environment that remains to be the favourite of foreign and domestic nature lovers over the past several decades. Majestic and towering hills and mountains, scenic rice terraces, free flowing clear rivers, beautiful waterfalls, historic caves, attractive flower and vegetable gardens, peace-loving people, intact indigenous lifeways, are among the attractions that pull people towards the different villages in the region. Add the fact that people can freely visit any place in the region with the least cost possible. The implementation of big-ticket infrastructures in the different parts of the region over the past several years resulted to significantly reduced travel time from the lowlands to the different tourist destinations. This is shown by the significant increase in tourist arrivals in almost all parts of the region over the past several years that contributed to the overall improvement in economic activities and sources of livelihood of the people.
Little did we know that a simple Corona Virus Disease (COVID) 2019 scare would suddenly dampen the momentum gained by the region’s tourism industry over the past several years with suspension of tourism-related activities. The business sector, especially those relying on tourism for their livelihood, definitely had been badly hit. Local officials made the hard decision, with expert advice from the Department of Health and other government agencies, to cancel their major festivals and suspend crowd-drawing activities even without the benefit of having a confirmed COVID case or local transmission of the virus that virtually made the difference. From the daily influx of people to the different tourism sites, there were many days that there were no arrivals.
One of the serious negative impact of the COVID scare was the lay-off of employees by some tourism establishments. The overall impact of the scare could be seen in the overall performance of the region’s tourism industry at the end of the year but tourism stakeholders, the local governments, among others, will see the negative impact of these on the industry that we had nurtured through the years.We could not avoid to put the blame on some of our bureaucrats who have made conflicting statements at the height of the scare that contributed to the worsening situation and the panic among our people. It only showed that even the best among the best was not prepared for the COVID scare that caught us by surprise. Ironically, concerned government officials had the difficulty of getting their acts together in trying to patch up the situation that made people more worried instead of being calm doubt it because of the no local transmission of the virus unlike in neighboring countries.
Surely, we have our hands full on how to regain the vibrance of our robust tourism industry. It will be again back to the drawing board and this time, it should be a collective effort among various sectors. The loss of jobs and given income is no joke at all because it dragged our economy to the worst situation in over several decades. We never saw a slump that occurred in our local tourism industry, except after the wrath of the July 16, 1990 killer earthquake and the meningococcemia scare and repeated with the recent COVID scare.
Our calmness and ability to make frontal judgements were put to an acid test in the recent COVID 2019 scare and based on the decisions of our leaders, we were ill-prepared about it no matter how much our local officials will come out in the open to defend their positions. They just made a hasty decision that eventually resulted to the wastage of our efforts to reap the fruits of our vibrant tourism industry. Had we came out with firm decisions to push through with our festivals and tourism-related activities in the different places of our region, we should be out of this bizarre position where we are in and we should have surpassed the critical stages of the scare that allowed us to move on to greater heights.
The question on when will the region recover from the slump in its tourism industry cannot be answered overnight. The answer will depend on how are we able to handle the aggressive promotion of our industry and how will we able to win the hearts of those who were disappointed on the sudden cancellations of events which they had been preparing for over a year ago. Remember that those visiting our places had prepared for quite some time to explore our region’s tourism potentials and unnecessary remarks and decisions led us to the slump that we never expected. But one thing is clear – we cannot be relying on tourism to bring us development because it is very sensitive to disasters, whether natural or human-induced.