Tourism trends towards the new normal


It may have been providential that we’re starting off this tourism corner in luminous coincidence with Independence Day. As this is being written on a Friday, the 12th of June, we’re all prepped up for the next phase in our troubled times. Coronavirus or not, Baguio tourism has had all of the ending MCGQ period striving to get over the doldrums, understated as it were, in the last 3 months. Not much really of a choice, considering how worried everyone has been as the pandemic threat hovered in our collective midst.

By tomorrow, a Monday of a week-starter, we should know in what level of quarantine restrictions under which the country — or parts of the 7,100 islands comprising the archipelago — shall be placed. It is said that the IATF has already put forward its recommendations, leaving it however to the President to decide, as it should be, for the nation.

Here in Baguio, we’re standing by for the next chapter leading to the New Normal. Tourism resorts, establishments, and businesses have somewhat begun re-operating, after weeks of preparations. The limited health protocols imposed from the national level may have added to the strain of compliance, but complied we did, because we’ve been afflicted that hard since the threat came in.

The re-opened tourism businesses — restaurants, hotels, lodging places and many others in the confines of what’s tourism-oriented and tourism-related — didn’t get to start as pre-planned. The pre-opening requirements just had to be an abiding work, paperwork mostly, beginning with formal applications for the government permits. Somehow, there just was the overriding concern to get over the slump, the faster the better.

In a larger sense, tourism may be a bread-and-butter economic driver, but in view of the times, tourism may still have to be at the backseat of the vehicle being driven to put the local economy going again. Three months of a slump have meant lost income, lost jobs, lost stock of stuff to serve. The beckoning New Normal seems within grasp, if only the dreaded disease were decisively dealt with. The New Normal may be offering much of a prospect, if only the hurt had not been that widespread, industry-wide.

This is why we at the Baguio Tourism Council had to invest most of its energy and dynamism to put together a doable plan that will decisively re-brand Baguio as a positive (sorry for the word) tourism directional thrust readily available once green-lighted to get off the ground. Since two weeks back, 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, including tourism businesses.

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.

By this time, the submissions may be going through the usual procedural review as expected, considering the need not just for a plan broadly seen as worthy of national support but realistically viewed as “called for”, considering the times, when safety is uppermost, when travel from place to place remains restricted by quarantine protocols, when public transportation can only take in passengers in limited carrier capacity.

Stripped of all the niceties liberally thrown around, the marketing presentation for a tourism recovery plan takes into account three stages of city life amid the continuing coronavirus threat: the Mitigation Stage, the Transition Stage, and the New Normal Stage. It is worth our collective while to be reminded of what had been submitted for national consideration, 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 quarantine levels till June 15th, 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.

“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 festive celebrations 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 targeted 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).

From what has been the well-defined considerations, it is crystal-clear that the basic question to posit is the execution aspect of the plan. How will this be expressed and to whom and in what stages? When will these be conveyed and communicated as an underlying messaging strategy? What projects, programs, events and activities can be undertaken without compromising inherently laid and strategically rationalized public health protocols? Will large crowd-gathering events be held, if at all?

The pen is now passed on to our next BTC columnist assigned for next week’s continued narrative. It’s your mighty turn to keep the faucet running.

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