Tourism and Environment

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Jump-starting a re-directed tourism program may have just been done refreshingly as the Baguio Tourism Council, reactivated and seemingly re-energized, takes the cudgels for an industry that has been reeling from declining tourism receipts these past several years now. The good news is that there now appears a bull-headed, no-nonsense spirit of collaboration among key sectors, no doubt brought together to make a fresh start. The better news is everyone seems genuinely spirited, determined to add his and her share to make tourism responsible, disciplined, and well in tune with Baguio’s environment.

The BTC has collectively endeavored to get major projects on stream, not just in blueprint dreams, but right into on-the-ground realities. These are presently planned and brain-trusted by minds that think, by hearts that beat caringly for Baguio, by souls that are willing to share time, talent and trust. The main idea is get everyone on board for a tourism program that goes beyond the rhetoric of bygone years, but hard-nosed enough to realize the huge challenges to an industry that needs more than the shot in the proverbial arm.

Next month, a tourism summit is set to take place, a gathering to bring together everyone concerned with tourism. We’re citing not just key stakeholders in both public and private institutions, they who run and manage every tourist establishment in town, from the high-end accommodation facilities to out-of-town lodges and inns, even transient and dormitory take-charge men and women whose business has been to make tourists feel Baguio tourism the uniquely inimitable way.

Yes, we’re also talking of even the front-liners who have shared up close and personal experiences with Mr. and Ms. Tourist — the tour guides, the hop-on and hop-off utility drivers, the stop-over on-site peddlers and loose-change entrepreneurs.

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.

Everyone will have their share of narratives that make up a Baguio story of their own, enough to fill up a grandma’s trove of treasures, enough to make a Tourism Summit worth heeding to, enough to kick-off what may well serve as crucial sounding board for policies that will consequently balance off the economic needs of tourism as against the costly demand for environmental caring of resources that have gone to waste.

Let’s face it. The ice-cold reality is that tourism has long been the bread-and-butter life of Baguio’s economy, the main economic driver that has sparked much of the progressive advances we’ve had ever, ever since. The upside is that Baguio, in post-earthquake years, rose quickly up on its knees and recovered mightily on the economic strength of tourism (and education) when even old-time residents were beginning to slacken in their faith for a city knocked down belly-up.

Of course, there have been downsides to the way that modernization has caused. Of late, residents have been heard to be resentful of what visitors and guests have, wittingly or not, been bringing in too, outside of cold cash. Economic planners have a term for it: overdevelopment as a result of overtourism. What these really are, supported by cold data, are as yet unproven. What residents feel are the traffic jams everywhere tourist influx happens, and lately, these have significantly caused too much of congestion everywhere else.

All these, the Baguio Tourism Council takes good note of, persuaded as their members are that declining tourist receipts — based for instance on reducing hotel occupancy levels in the last two years alone — are hardly a light concern. They affect the cash register and everyone else whose daily needs are reliant on how heavy or light the tourist influx is.

Yes, it’s plain commonsense that tourism — the great swelling crowds that come up here every little chance they get — may just need something of a re-direction in the way we bring and attract them all in. On super-events like Christmas, Panagbenga, and the summertime episodes of city life, they come in huge droves, on land, made in abbreviated fashion by a relaxing 3-1/2 hour drive through expressways that have been created. On just about any ordinary day, they still come up, admittedly in reduced numbers, but they still do. They may not be housed in the flashy hotels or in budget lodging places, but they must be sheltered in less trying under-the-sky amenities.

Truth to tell: 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.

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.

A small city, in contrast to lowland cities, Baguio has managed to be above the usual combustible fray common in other places. Friendliness has even cultivated a culture of enduring friendships between residents and visitors, despite the recent travails of just spending a day or two in our midst.

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.

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