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We’ve just been through an energized week, striving to craft a plan that will decisively re-brand Baguio as a tourism directional thrust hopefully well supported to get it off the ground. In recent days, tourism talks have largely focused in providing a marketing platform for a tourism recovery program, no doubt made critically dire as the city begun opening up its key economic sectors.
As expected, tourism seems to be at the bottom of the pile, and not without a reason that everyone having a crucial stake in the industry will always understand, even if in diverse polarization.
Thus, in two key teleconferences hosted by the Baguio Tourism Council and the City Government of Baguio — much thanks to Mayor Benjie whose ever-busy, hand’s on leadership functions allowed the critical dialogue — there was a healthy if candid exchange of views among national officials led by Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat and the Tourism Promotions Board COO Antonietta Allones and other high-ranking officials, hobnobbing with locals spearheaded by the Mayor himself and this columnist, as BTC Interim Chairperson.
A marketing and promotions plan that I personally saw emerged from BTC consultations was presented — thanks CTO and BTC Secretary Alec Mapalo, Ferdie Balanag of An Enchanting Baguio Christmas fame and his communicator of a tandem Noly Balatero — to my mind, so ably explained to our tourism national counterparts, even as all through the proceedings, it was Mayor Benjie who seemed to hug the tourism limelight. No doubt, the Mayor’s sterling reputation and the innovative leadership he exercised all through the quarantine periods have preceded all other considerations, as no less than Sec Berna herself jested out that she seemed to have sounded more like a “media handler” of our very own chief executive.
Stripped of all the niceties liberally thrown around, the marketing presentation takes into account three stages of city life amid the continuing coronavirus threat: the Mitigation Stage, the Transition Stage, and the New Normal Stage. As presented, Baguio would seem to be now at the Transition level, and certain basic considerations were premised, upon which the Plan itself was based. I take pride in quoting from the submitted document, to wit:
“The entire Baguio community, as spearheaded by key officials, public and private, has been in shared soliidarity with national policies, as enforced by the local government, in combatting the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic affecting the country, through a series of measures generally meant to keep everyone out of harm’s way while the coronavirus contagion continues its national sweep.
In the last 9 months now, the City Government, led by its Local City Executive, City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, has been actively in the forefront of “a whole of government response”, leading the way in enforcing ECQ, later downgraded to GCQ, in a city-wide campaign to instill compliance with restrictions in all levels of society.
Presently, under GCQ till May 31, 2020, the city response has been strategically encompassing and wide-ranging. The overall goal remains unswerving: keep the population out of health risk, reduce mobility from point to point, and restrain unnecessary travel out of home to only very essential needs for health and sanitation, food security, and medical requirements for self-protective wear and equipment by frontline service providers — doctors, nurses, medtechs, allied services, and other health workers.
While critical business and work operations gradually re-opened beginning May 16, 2020, the tourism industry remained generally closed, even as partly some economic activities have been allowed:
a. Hotel accommodation facilities only to serve as lodging places for returning workers in re-opened non-tourism businesses as well as frontline health workers required to be in near-sites;
b. Restaurant establishments, only for food cooking, pickup and delivery transactions.
The Baguio Tourism Council is in shared solidarity with the business sector in expressing its readiness to comply with national and local guidelines when community quarantine restrictions are lifted.
In the local economy’s transition into the New Normal, the BTC has prepared and expresses full readiness to launch a marketing program designed to re-brand Baguio as a tourism city made safe and secure by the collective discipline of its people, now better equipped to instill responsible tourism among residents and visitors alike.
Why a RE-BRANDING FOR BAGUIO
Like all other re-opened businesses, the tourism industry will adopt a gradual entry into the New Normal, and adapt allowed activities to the continuing observance and strict enforcement of health and occupational safety protocols as the basic strategy in preventing transmission and infection.
Necessarily, under a re-opened tourism business, marketing efforts will have to abide by the New Normal regulations put in place, such that defined directions must be in line with new practices consistent with Baguio’s prevailing health-protecting economic and social environment.
Consequently, the traditional ways of promoting Baguio as a festival haven (Panagbenga Flower Festival, Cordillera haven of enduring rituals, etc.) will have to be set aside in favor of new marketing approaches carefully chosen for their thematic approximation of the New Normal.
Re-branding Baguio towards the defined marketing thrust will serve to focus on new assets (what Baguio has in unique dominance over other tourist destinations) and new ways that will attract targetted markets (a rejuvenating natural environment, a safe and secured well-nourishing experience of sharing and caring, and a desire to be part of Baguio’s enriching cultural heritage that is sustainably anchored on creatively felt diverse customs, traditions, and arts in existential harmony with each other.
How will this be expressed and to whom and in what stages? This for next week’s continued narrative.