BAGUIO CITY – Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco stresses a commitment to empowering local stakeholders in Northern Luzon, aiming to transform them into ambassadors for the region’s tourism.
Through initiatives such as community-based enterprises and support for tour operators, Frasco highlighted during the second leg of the Northern Luzon Travel Expo (NTLE) in the City of Pines – to elevate regional tourism experience “by providing resources, training, funding, and platforms to enhance tourism offerings, fostering a resilient and sustainable tourism environment.”
DOT aspires to make the region an “alluring hotspot for those in search of both natural beauty and cultural appointments,” as per Frasco, acknowledging the significance of the global tourism network, “making Northern Luzon a hub for collaboration and knowledge exchange.”
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the tourism industry contributed 6.2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2022, thereby generating substantial employment and livelihood opportunities for those involved in tourism.
This prompted the country’s economic managers to declare tourism as one of the top growth drivers of the national economy and the rebound of tourism has been identified as the second most influential factor contributing to the country’s economic expansion during the first half of this year, trailing closely behind the agriculture sector.
The tourism sector, according to Frasco, has already added 404 billion pesos to the economy, and noted that the achievement stands at 99% of the annual target for international arrivals, set at 4.8 million pesos by year-end.
However, Frasco admitted that there are multiple challenges that the sector is facing in terms of infrastructure, connectivity, digitalization, and a host of other difficult trials that persist to the economic hurdles faced by stakeholders in the tourism industry due to the pandemic.
“It is a privilege to witness the resilience of North Luzon’s tourism sector and contribute to an event that highlights the diverse treasures of this region,” she remarked.
Frasco quoted, “They say that in tourism, there is work. In tourism, there is promotion,” asserting the need to advocate for the complete resumption of tourism “as a way to promote tourism.”
Baguio’s City resilient rise
Meanwhile, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong also recognizes the DOT’s substantial initiatives to empower local stakeholders as advocates for regional tourism.
“We all know that in Baguio City and the Cordillera Region, one of our drivers of the economy is tourism,” Magalong told BusinessMirror.
He mentioned that Baguio’s GDP is the third major economic contributor and holds the third-most improved position among 33 highly urbanized cities in the Regional Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index (CMCI) for 2021.
The city enhanced its rankings across the four key dimensions of economic dynamism, government efficiency, infrastructure, and resiliency.
The “Summer Capital of the Philippines,” it constituted 44.8 percent of the regional economy of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) in 2021, with Benguet lagging behind at 24.1 percent. This signifies its substantial economic influence within the region.
“With the recovery of Baguio City, Magalong told BusinessMirror that in 2021, the City experienced an impressive GDP rate of 9.9 percent, surpassing the national rate of 5.9 percent.
“We are expecting, when the PSA (Philippine Statistics Authority) data is released again, for 2022, most probably we’ll be able to hit the above 10% GDP,” Magalong expresses optimism for continued growth.
“We’re expecting that this year alone, we’ll be able to hit around 2.5 to 2.6 million tourists,” Magalong highlights the remarkable growth by comparing it to the pre-pandemic figures in 2019 when tourist arrivals were around 1.9 million.
Adding his visions of an impressive figure of 3 million tourists by 2025.
Challenges amidst tourist influx
Hence, beyond the tourism economic rebound, Magalong when asked by BusinessMirror about the challenges posed by an influx of tourists, he identified traffic management as a primary concern for Baguio City.
The increasing number of visitors brings about logistical issues, including traffic congestion and local residents’ frustration.
He underscored that the city is facing challenges not only to sustain the economic expansion but also the increasing influx of tourists to the city and this trend is expected to persist.
Magalong quotes, “We are the victims of our own successes, the more we create a better Baguio, the more people are attracted to it.”
However, despite these challenges, Magalong urged understanding, emphasizing that the city cannot prevent people from coming.
“We’re coming up with strategic solutions, strategic programs and projects para ma-address natin,” he said.
He told BusinessMirror the ongoing discussions with major corporations and conglomerates to implement a smart mobility transportation system utilizing artificial intelligence to efficiently manage the city’s traffic and overall mobility.
These initiatives aim to strike a balance between promoting tourism and addressing the associated challenges faced by the local community.
One key element highlighted by Mayor Magalong is the crucial balance between opening up the economy and creating an enabling environment for businesses to flourish.
“Tinulungan namin yung mga MSMEs (Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises),” injecting a substantial amount of 100 million pesos into available funding without any interest on loans.
This targeted approach aimed to support MSMEs, recognized as significant economic drivers in the region.
“Tuloy-tuloy ang growth ng ating region,” he said.
Cultural heritage at the forefront
Addressing concerns about cultural resources and preservation, Baguio City Government took proactive measures during the pandemic as per Magalong.
The city conducted an inventory of its heritage sites, mapping out over 300 locations, “We’re going to make sure na itong mga ito will be preserved efficiently and ensure na talagang wala yung indiscriminate destruction.”
Furthermore, the city has actively sustained its creative festivals, such as the Baguio Festival, Panagbenga Festival, and Montañosa Festival, among others. Magalong emphasized the significance of these festivals in preserving cultural traditions.
Notably, Baguio City is home to a diverse array of tribes, boasting connections with 43 distinct tribes within its constituents.
“We make sure na talagang yung kanilang cultural traditions are well preserved,” he said.
Excitement builds for North Luzon Travel Expo
“We look forward to this [NTLE] convergence and collaboration that will no doubt do justice to the beauty of this region and the rich offerings that you have in tourism,” Frasco highlighted.
She expressed excitement for the upcoming inauguration of a dedicated tourist rest area (TRA) in Baguio in which the facility is set to boast its own information center, Pasalubong Center, and environmentally friendly restrooms designed to enhance the overall tourist experience.
“From these initial 10 TRAs, we are building 18 more in the year to come.” Adding “That is how important we perceive our tourists to be because we love our tourists in the Philippines.”
While Magalong expressed gratitude for the overwhelming support received for initiatives aimed at elevating the quality of life and preserving the environment.
He highlighted the expo as a catalyst for economic growth, a tourism driver, and a source of diverse opportunities for the people of the region.
“This Expo is not just a showcase of products and services,” Magalong explained. “It is a platform for collaboration, a meeting ground for businesses, and a celebration of our shared aspiration.”
“It is a testament to the resilience and determination of the people of North Luzon to thrive and to prosper,” he remarked. All photos by John Eiron R. Francisco/BM
Image credits: John Eiron R. Francisco