Responsible tourism

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The other side of tourism, in all its warts and woes, may have seemed to catch on in recent days, enough for not a few raving, ranting observers to have said, enough of it, enough is enough. Garbage just thrown every which way, traffic snarls everywhere — it’s plain as day that tourists are getting the brunt as a result of what has been a bad experience during the holidays.

Let’s be fair folks, and look at the issue holistically. Fine, tourism — the irresponsible kind mostly — isn’t all that holy for anyone to be unholy about. Stripped of what has been direly experienced, it cannot be overlooked that there has traditionally been the good side of it — the cash registers merrily ringing, rooms booked six months back, merchandise sold out in minutes — the local economy, that’s what.

Looking back, we at the Baguio Tourism Council took up the cudgels for our tourist stakeholders who have had doldrums all year long, minus the festive Panagbenga that drew in the crowds. We thought it was just timely to latch onto something innovative, something creative, something out-of-the-box that a Yuletide season can bring about. As no less enunciated by our Co-Chair, Mayor Benjie Magalong: it had to be “simple but elegant”. How this would be translated was the task gladly taken, harnessing “creative juices” from everyone involved, getting blueprint dreams leaped out into cold reality.

An Enchanting Baguio Christmas came into being not just as a flash in the pan idea, but as a bull-headed, no-nonsense spirit of collaboration among key sectors, stubbornly brought together to make a fresh start. Everyone came on board without qualms and pretense, no doubt energized by the breath of fresh air that His Honor has infused.

Through it all, there seems to echo a genuinely spirited discussion, borne on the shoulders of people who are eager to make his and her share to make tourism responsible, disciplined, and well in tune with Baguio’s environment, something that always is perched up there to bring in tourists into our collective midst. But, most importantly, there was a conscious effort to involve residents, to make them feel the Christmas allure was for them principally meant to perk up sagging spirits and make every moment enlivened, enchanting enough for them to think, feel, ennervate Baguio through and through.

Through it all, the purpose has been unswerving: make tourists feel responsible not just by himself, but for the community he’s visiting, for the environment he’s mesmerized in, for the customs and traditions he’s getting soaked into. To be responsible is to respect his surroundings, to abide what is in practice, to obey local laws, to be part of anything that will exude pleasantness, rather than inconvenience or discomfort, to anyone.

Despite being derisively termed as but a hodge-podge of different traits, we paid heed to take utmost care that in Baguio, there’s the revered “melting pot” of varied yet harmonizing cultures and traditions that keep the natural environment well protected, nurtured, and even re-generated. The recreated pine tree atop Session Road, long belittled for what isn’t there became a Christmas tree reborn, not just resurrected, to signify what is simple, yet elegant in projecting the ways Christmas must be marked. That icon was festooned and lighted up to be a beacon of hope and glad tidings, amid the emaciating challenges we face, even as we grapple with the day-to-day struggles to remain above ground.

Tourists and residents alike have often gazed at Baguio’s pine tree as a standout in its quiet majestric skyward thrust, symbolizing how mortal hopes and dreams call for divine response any moment of our challenged life. Its stature in the area poses a stark reminder how simply anyone by his own merit can overpower an economically affluent surrounding typified by buildings competing with each other for dominance and motorized contraptions in an eternal race to eject the toxins into our noses.

Another fine recreation is the Christmas Market, so popular in key European cities, that drew throngs at the Rose Garden, not just a hodge-podge of market stalls, but a well-designed cluster of chalets that replicate Europe’s best facades for great Christmas finds and bargain discoveries. Something like these were strategically positioned far apart from cluster to cluster, allowing walkable routes that park-goers leisurely take while nearest Mother Nature’s finest places at Burnham Park, where flowering plants are in full splendor, where grasses are in gleaming green, where natural communion interconnects life forms in somber retreats.

Responsible tourism may not have happened every defining moment, but something lofty as this does take time to be inculcated. Surely, a festival of a Christmas celebration will not suffice. But the way to achieve it is to be consistent in our approach, never reproaching any offender — visitors or ibagiw — but painstakingly drilling into his very soul the importance of abiding locally what globally is already a need.

Mayor Benjie may have said it properly when he put Responsible Tourism high up in his 15-point Core Agenda, “We will lead in re-shaping tourism promotion to make it a shared enterprise activity that is all-inclusive, where everyone benefits from tourism visits. We will advocate for tourism dispersal under an equitably shared partnership with our neighboring towns, encouraging host communities to propagate a culture of tourism. New promotional thrusts will be advanced to encourage self-discipline and self-responsibility among tourists, especially in caring for our environment, our culture and traditions.”

Yes, we submit that tourism is not just about people, in isolation from esoteric aspirations. We’re talking of sidewalk vendors, shoe-shine boys, newspaper peddlers, even government bureaucrats who have been having regular face-to-face encounters with our visitors, they who are getting by in the outskirts of the local economy, but by their first-hand experiences, are crucial in making tourism perky and painstaking.

Tourism is not just about events painstakingly planned to make Mr. and Ms. Tourist pleasantly welcome to make their own Baguio stories in their encounter with us. To be sure, their share of narratives make up a Baguio story of their own, memorable enough for repeat visits, nourishing enough to fill up a grandma’s trove of treasures, enchanting enough to make their Christmas visit enjoyable to re-discover Baguio more and more.

Tourism must heed the call of the times for it to continue thriving. In its very core is Baguio’s natural environment, from which culture and traditions have happily been in living harmony with each other. Not far apart are new discoveries just waiting to be experienced in neighboring communities, where indigenous practices and environmental caring have endured through time, where we have age-old neighborliness of sharing and caring.

Let a constant truth be told: 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.

Surely, there are ways to merge environmental needs with tourism needs, without one being at a premium over the other. Surely, a sensible program can make tourism thrive more in an environment unerringly clean and outstandingly green. Making a tourist visit well-managed is making him experience the magical wonders of a replenishing, nurturing environment. Making him return, with friends and family in tow, will assuredly develop from the memories he had last time, memories that can only come from his experience of the Baguio way.

Giving a fresh initiative to tourism planning and execution is the breath of fresh air to make tourism a pleasurable enterprise shared, not just between hosts people and guests, but even more so, between a government and its private partners seriously resolved to get tourism going, ahead of tough times anytime at all.