All systems go, that’s what the Baguio Tourism Council board of directors may well have decided, after hearing our brain-trust group make a solid pitch for a Christmas festival unlike any other in recent memory. The group is a motley pack of young and not-so-young minds enlisted to think out-of-the-box and put up something to remember Christmas by. Lucky me for having these guys squeeze creative juices just so we’d have a well-nourishing Yuletide.
As articulated in the conceptual framework for the Christmas project, the BTC’s goal is to align the current tourism program with the 15-point collective core-agenda of the City Government, to wit: “We will lead in re-shaping our tourism promotion to make it a shared enterprise activity that is all-inclusive, where everyone benefits from tourism. New promotional thrusts will be advanced to propagate a culture of responsible tourism and self-responsibility among tourists, especially in caring for our environment, our culture, our creative arts, folklore and traditions.”
Consequently, the BTC — called upon to lend talent, treasure, and trust —is now pre-positioned to revitalize current tourism programs by creating a thematic mother-umbrella to the activities lined up in celebrating Christmas in Baguio. Thus, as enunciated in its project concept, “there shall be new sets of activities brought to bear on the traditional ones; better ways of planning and executing these activities shall be identified and task-shared with other key stakeholders in the tourism industry.
We therefore aim for nothing less than a better celebration of Christmas in Baguio, harnessed tightly through better a public-private partnership that harmonizes tourism efforts selflessly done as a shared endeavor. This is how the Christmas program will unfold, under BTC direction:
Chosen as the umbrella theme of the annual festival is “An Enchanting Baguio Christmas”, a signature phrase that embodies how Christmas in Baguio will be conducted this year. The idea is simple: make the Festival revolve around “an enchanting Christmas”, something that is far from the run-of-the-mill festivities, something that entices tourists to experience (over and over again) what a Baguio Christmas is like, in terms of the sights, sounds, songs, dances, and sighs (in terms of nostalgic remembrance) that can only be embraced when in Baguio.
The Baguio Christmas Fair. This will be a local simulation of the world-famous Christmas Markets staged during the Yuletide season in European countries like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. For closer replication, the Rose Garden at Burnham Park will serve as venue for creatively curated chalets built in clusters of five spread out, not in a single-line formation, but in clusters. To be showcased from these chalets, which are assigned to premium or key sponsors, are high-end exhibits or product/service offers for the best Christmas bargain prices.
The Baguio Christmas Tree. A recreated elegantly decked Christmas Tree shall rise from Top of Session Road rotunda, and lighted up beginning December First, to signal the over-a-month long celebration and in synchronized activity with business establishments along Session Road, Magsaysay Avenue, Harrison Road, including the road center-islands, pedestrian overpasses, and the flyover facilities at the BGH rotunda and the Magsaysay-Bokawkan junction.
Christmas Lights, Sounds and Shows. These are spectator-roiented activities that will be staged as part of the Christmas Fair attractions at the Rose Garden and at Burnham Lake. By the skillful use of lights and sounds, Christmas tales of great human interest will be told and re-told, in keeping with the mood of the season. Timless Christmas stories on film may also be shown during intervals.
Christmas-infused Sports. To add more magical dust to the Christmas vibe, the infusion of sports to the festivities will underscore the Baguio folks’ adoration of their sports heroes who have notched triumphs in their endeavors by dint of simple hard, dedicated work towards excellence. Youth-contributed activities include the Saka Rocker Music and Football Festival, a Barangay Peace Cup, and restrospective exhibit of sports achievements by local sportsmen.
Christmas the barangayan way. These are activities endeavored by the barangays to showcase their best Christmas practices, including enduring traditions that have been passed on from generation to the next. A taste of the Northern and Cordilleran culture rooted from sharing and caring tops of the barangayan activities where families share time and trust with indigent brethren, with seniors left by their lonesome on Christmas time. Gift-giving, a predominant act during Christmas, will headline charity activities for children etc.
An experience worth repeating with others, this may well serve as the rallying pitch that An Enchanting Baguio Christmas festival seeks to create, build upon, and sustain in more years to come. It is this very experience that the Baguio Tourism Council, reactivated after more than a decade, has opted to face head-on as key stakeholders grapple with on-the-ground realities.
On super-events like Christmas, Panagbenga, and the summertime episodes of city life, they come in significant numbers, family-by-family, enticed to take a breather or two on rejuvenating climes uniquely Baguio’s. Land travel has been abbreviated enough for the visitors to be up in the clouds through a relaxing 3-1/2 hour drive through expressways.
On just about any ordinary day, they still come up, admittedly in reduced numbers, but they still do. Without having to be brash about it, let’s be frank: Baguio, despite the warts and woes of a muddling city life, remains to be a topnotch getaway destination. Our cooling climes, mainly from the only natural air-conditioning system operating nowhere else, are enough to lure them in at the slightest pretense.
The coming Christmas celebration here in Baguio may well offer the “simple yet elegant” insights that can lay the foundation of a midterm and long term tourism plan for an industry crying for attention at this time. The goal is simple and clear: how do we inculcate a tourism brand like Festival Tourism as a way to bring out the best in what Baguio can offer?
To reiterate: far too long have we prepositioned Christmas in Baguio as just the right time for families to reunite, for friendships to be reaffirmed, for relationships to be re-defined in relation to our sense of belonging to each other. And not to forget, our sense of belonging to a chosen deity.
This time around, something is new and innovative, a curated Christmas Market that is well in vogue in European cities, hardly the “tiangge or baratilyo” kind of enterprise that has given trade fairs and exhibitions the undeserved bad name in recent years.
Christmas bargains from well-decked shops adorned as chalets will be the stellar attractions, from roasted chestnuts, delectable cuisine, cosmopolitan beverages, remembrance and souvenir items to name branded attires and knick-knacks making a memorable December appearance.
An over-a-month long celebration, from November 22, 2019 all the way to January 6, 2020, An Enchanting Baguio Christmas promises to be a pulsating panorama of a multi-sensory experience erupting in the crowd-converging places. Let the Baguio experience begin now of a Christmas celebration unlike any other.
Even now, the BTC stakeholders are in guarded anxiety if the planned events and activities will induce the unique joy of celebrating Christmas the Baguio way, by innovative new events drawn together by a community of people interested to engage and be engaged with each other.
Make no mistake about it, this is simply the initial step of what is accepted as a long mile. On long-term, there is need to energize the tourism sector in harmony with our natural environment, admitting that the industry can only thrive in an environment whose resources — the mountains, the forest cover, the trees, the water and air bred from these — are well-protected, preserved and nourish enough to secure posterity.
We recognize that tourism direction has to 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 pressing environmental needs for protection, conservation, and even regeneration.
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.