Since way, way back, tourism has long been the bread-and-butter life of Baguio’s economy, an economic driver that has made possible much of the modernizing advances we’ve been having. Yet, in recent years, tourism has had its share of brickbats, mostly from residents who may have had enough of all the things that they say are tourism-generated.
With tourists jamming up every nook and cranny, traffic congestion seems to be an affliction everywhere, roads are clogged up end-to-end even in unheard places. Nightlife has become a petty nuisance, as pubs and bars compete for carousing clients. Every cuss word may have been cast every which way where tourists converge.
It isn’t surprising that the derisive word “overtourism’ may have taken off from what is experienced every time the great swelling crowds are here every little chance they get. That experience gets magnified when the horde is up here. That’s all because overtourism promotion, when just about everyone is here for the precious time of escaping the summer heat, but mostly during super events that are actually staged precisely to raise tourism several notches up.
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. In recent years, hotel occupancy has been on a downtrend, with hotels and inns barely able to make do a given year. About the only time that their facilities are substantially booked is when a festival is underway.
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.
No weekend treats can top off the refreshing environment one gets to experience when in Baguio. Every small chance available, they’re suddenly upon us, an overtourism that suffices to make many resentful that tourists are around. Regulating tourism appears to be a sensible reaction, if only to check the congestion it brings into hapless citizens like you and I. But does it really do that? Wouldn’t it in fact kill the goose that lays the golden egg?
The coming Christmas celebration here in Baguio may well offer the 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?
For years, Christmas in Baguio has always been just the time for families to reunite, for friendships to be reaffirmed, for relationships be re-defined in relation to our sense of piety. It is celebrated every which way we can for family bonding, through events and activities that have been traditional, and therefore well-established.
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, memorable souvenir items to signature clothier and knick-knacks that have had no December appearance till now.
A two-month long celebration, from November 15, 2019 all the way to January 15, 2020, An Enchanting Baguio Christmas — that’s what the thematically influenced Festival is signature — promises to be a panorama of sights, sounds, and sighs that projects a multi-sensory experience of the Yuletide Season erupting in the crowd-converging places.
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.