The Cordillera has been identified by concerned government agencies and stakeholders as a prime ecotourism destination north of Metro Manila because of scenic spots that enticed tourists and nature lovers to visit such destinations prior to the pandemic. The ongoing Corona Virus Disease (COVID) 2019 pandemic for over a year now allowed these favorite tourist destinations of foreign and domestic tourists to recover and become worthy of visiting again. Even the Department of Tourism and the Philippine Statistics Authority are convinced, based on data, that tourism will be the spark that can fire up the region’s renewed economic growth. This is significant now that there is a need to start up the overall economy because of the snowballing demand for employment and livelihood amidst the recent surge in the number of COVID-19 cases regionwide.
Visitors love to visit the scenic tourist spots in Sagada, Mountain Province; Banaue, Ifugao; Baguio City; the Mount Pulag National Park in Kabayan, Benguet, among others. Statistics show that Ifugao and Mountain Province follow Baguio city as the most visited places in the region. Aside from the accommodation facilities, other stakeholders that rely on tourism as their source of income are the transportation services, food establishments, travel agencies, entertainment sites, tourist guides, souvenir shops, to name a few. These sectors are eagerly awaiting the decision of concerned government agencies and local governments on the easing up of the prevailing community quarantine guidelines to allow the gradual, safe, sure and responsible opening of tourism activities in various places around the region.
Based on 2019 statistics from concerned government agencies, there were more than 2.1 million foreign and domestic tourist arrivals in the region with Baguio City getting the bulk of the arrivals with over 75.3 percent, followed by Ifugao, Mountain Province, Benguet, Kalinga and Apayao. Further, these visitors infused over P10.5 billion into the economy. This amount of spending supported increased economic activities and livelihood down to the rural communities, especially among food producers. The bulk of spending, P8.7 billion, or 83%, was contributed by the domestic tourist arrivals, while P1.7 billion was spent by foreign visitors that arrived in the region during the said period.
During these quarantine times, tourism industry stakeholders introduced the required improvements in their establishments to ensure compliance with health and safety protocols and added attractions to entice more people to visit their places once the prevailing community quarantine guidelines as part of the new normal. These efforts of operators of tourist establishments contribute to the efforts of the government to bring back the vibrance of economic activities around the country.
Tourism is one of the sectors that is expected to rebound from the prevailing slump even if it was among the last sectors that were allowed to open after levels of community quarantine were downgraded by government agencies and local governments. We understand the reason why there are still many local governments that are cautious in allowing the resumption of tourism activities in their respective areas of jurisdiction to prevent the unnecessary surges in COVID-19 cases in their places that might compromise the health of their constituents and overwhelm their health facilities.
We certainly agree that tourism will be a major player in the revival of the local economy. People who were displaced from their previous work are now searching for jobs and sources of livelihood for their sustenance. We can no longer contain the eagerness of the people to be productive during these difficult times because people cannot afford to see the members of their families and relatives to suffer from hardships because of lack of the means to support their basic needs. We could not blame people from being restless to go out of their residences to look for jobs that will make them productive with them adhering to the basic health and safety protocols, such as the mandatory waring of face masks and shields, the observance of physical distancing and the practice of personal hygiene such as the washing of hands and regular disinfection.
We are alarmed over the reported surges in cases in various parts of the country that caused concern among our government officials. Ironically, we should not put the blame on government alone because we have also been lax about the situation, especially in our compliance to the basic health and safety protocols. It had been observed that many of us had been putting our guard down since the downgrading of the community quarantine guidelines which caused the increase in cases in certain areas around the country. Let us continue to be vigilant on the latest developments on COVID so that we can help in the government’s overall efforts to control the spike in COVID cases. Let us allow economic activities to be revived gradually to spur our economy. In doing so, let us bear in mind that it is the locals, you and me, who can do much both to revive the economy and to control the spread of COVID-19. Let us all keep ourselves safe so that our love ones are safe too. We shall overcome this way.