Testing time for tourism

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Everything possible should have been set by now before D-Day. Yes, it’s when tourism gets its own deliverance, from the shackles of inactivity that has gone half-a-year now.

Tuesday it will be, when we launch the vaunted Tourism Bubble project that invite tourists from Baguio and the Ilocos provinces travelling in a Reef to Ridge journey that other similarly minded compatriots nationwide are said to be keenly watching for possible adoption or replication. Tuesday it will be, when Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat gets back to Baguio to grace the kick-off program, no doubt hopeful that the Baguio initiative will reap the just rewards for an industry that has been decimated all season long.

No doubt about it, hopes have been that high since September the First when local chief executives of the participating local governments (Baguio, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Pangasinan) signed up the agreement to link each other up for this unique collaboratively planned endeavor. In fact, since that day, local and regional preparations have been stepping up notches high to get all efforts going, to get everyone of consequence on board, to leave nothing to chance, and to simply toughen it up even more as D-Day neared up.

There’s no question that the target tourist places for visitation are eminently eligible, having the same modified level and quality of eased up restrictions in place, enough to qualify for inter-local tourist exchange. So why not open these areas to tourist visits? After all, far too long has tourism been locked out and down for businesses to resume. Far too long has the affliction to jobs and livelihood been stymied.

There’s no arguing any longer that the lengthy days of economic suffering, of everyday life in hardship with no certainty of alleviation, have to acquire some degree of importance in the extraordinary scheme of things. Somehow, quarantine pressures may have gone too far, too long, and too hard for family income to re-materialize back to decent levels, for revenues to revert back in good numbers, for jobs to be won back, for livelihoods dependent on tourism to renew.

No doubt about it, for an industry that has been hardest hit, tourism direly needs to be revived. The economic loss has been estimated at P1.7 billion (and counting). Nearly 5,000 regular and irregular workers have been laid off or placed on rotating work at depleted income, and thousands of small and medium size businesses have badly been eking out a day-to-day survival. Lost government revenues alone are a staggering P600-P700 million less compared to last year of collected income.

The fact is that the excruciating narratives of first-hand experience have been a profile of misery all around. Nowhere is this more telling than from those who have been bearing the brunt of despair these days, a kind of affliction that no consoling words will ever dissipate. The economic distress is deeply felt, as pervading as the pandemic has become.

Indeed, there simply is no choice but to let tourism have its time now to be recognized for all the decades of abundance that it has substantially brought in. But recognition should not just be in soothing words, in consoling hand-tap at the back of anyone experiencing pangs of hunger and unending bouts with anxieties over daily needs. It verily needs to get beyond platitudes of concern.

This is why Mayor Benjie’s deep-seated anguish resonates well when paralleled with actions he has steadily taken to do the baby steps in re-opening an economy painfully shut down. A crisis manager through and through, he has taken the bull by the horns and has applied well-chosen calibrated measures to balance health and safety needs with economic imperatives that cannot be overlooked, procrastinated over, or be ignored.

This may well be why the Tourism Bubble has come about, to be some kind of a herald of hope for a stricken industry that has long been last in the backburner. The risks have been weighed in meticulously through the months that the pandemic has been with us, hovering here and there, respecting no status in life, no age to reckon with. At every turn, he was there, using every knowledge and experience vastly accumulated to combat the strange, unseen, unpredictable enemy whose virulence has been remarkably deadlier than other mutating virus.

No choice indeed, but to let tourism open up, as Mayor Benjie did in reactivating essential businesses early on and by the same stern standards that he has abided by and shepherded to the finest letter of compliance demanded by health and safety protocols.

Getting tourism back on its staggered feet means doing the vital steps slowly, steadily, and most importantly, safely. Not in one feel swoop as in letting the hordes of visitors in as before. Not in a single fireworks blast whose fiery streaks create instant pathways across the skies. Everything has been simply done as calibrated steps, every step of the way.

To be sure, there are guidelines that may well be the guiding light of how this unique tourist exchange shall be undertaken. Not a chance will anything be left to chance, knowing how treacherous the virus has become in all its slyness. Everything must be endeavored to ensure total readiness — the safety of everyone involved during entry and exit of tourists and residents alike, the total compliance with health protocols, from point of origin to point of destination, the physical attraction of places to be visited, the standards to be followed in regulating mobility from place to place.

Getting tourism back will eventually have to involve Baguio’s neighboring towns, especially those along the Reef to Ridge corridor (Tuba, Sablan) and those whose own attractions can add to the luring effort (La Trinidad, Tublay, Itogon). This is as it should be, considering the vital need of sharing aspiration, resources, and collaboration.

This is probably what moved tourism regional officials led by OIC-RD Jovi Ganongan to re-engage LGU heads whose pointed views have greeted the publicized re-opening of Baguio tourism just a week back, ranging from safety-influenced reluctance to wonderment of being left out. She is now optimistic that the LISTT town heads will take part in the project when safety issues locally experienced are dissipated. For now, the town chiefs are on a “watch Baguio” mood.

At day’s end, nothing less than safety maximized at every turn, satisfaction glowingly portrayed all around can make tourism bubble up in hopes verdant with expectations. More than that will buoy up an enterprise roused up in lifted spirit, in solidarity with our neighbors. Turismong Pilipino para sa Kapwa Pilipino! Angat Tayo Baguio sa pagsulong ng turismo!