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Looking forward to a sustainable & responsible tourism for Baguio
by Alec Mapalo

It has been a year since I came into government service as the supervising tourism operations officer of Baguio City.

It was an uncharted professional direction for myself, with only my personal desire to help the city in my own humble capacity. But then I found that the challenge is huge.

One of the first things that I have set myself to work on is to review all that has been crafted by many different organizations and agencies as to their take on how tourism of Baguio should take direction. I’ve seen documents from as far as 2004, when the very first tourism summit was conducted, and to the summit in 2017, when the Department of Tourism has organized consultations and commissioned a private consultancy group to package a long-term tourism development plan for Baguio. They were all educational and inspirational for me, but at the same time a little frustrating since none of them were actually implemented.

Conceptual framework of the Baguio Tourism Development Plan, showing the three guiding principles for sustainable and responsible tourism.



In those documents, there had been the usual situational analyses, vision and mission setting, and even planning workshops, comprehensive and inclusive enough to come up with conclusive recommendations. I realized that I just needed to synthesize them.

With my own current observation and enquiring insights, I have put together a consolidated tourism development plan for Baguio City. This development plan has been presented to the executive and legislative departments. The intention is to present it to the public, through the recently reconvened Baguio Tourism Council in a tourism summit. More of its details later.

For this article, I would like to initially share what I believe to be the more important aspect of the development plan – its focus on sustainable and responsible tourism. Interestingly, or rather aptly, the new administration under Mayor Benjie Magalong has included in his core administrative agenda, a thrust in responsible tourism. It just made it more exciting that our vision and directions for Baguio tourism coalesce and thus can now be really aggressively pushed forward.

In the nucleus of the consolidated tourism development plan is the framework that will be the guide for all proposed plans and programs, and even any variations of it. The framework clearly identifies the guiding principles of sustainable tourism: environmental sustainability, socio-cultural sustainability and economic sustainability. The detailed implementing guidelines of these three pillars of sustainability are in the “Guide for Sustainable Tourism Best Practices”, published by Rainforest Alliance, Inc. But what I will discuss here is how these principles can be worked out as major influences to all our endeavors in the development and implementation of tourism programs in the context of Baguio’s current situation as a major tourism destination, and as a city where tourism is a major industry.

Environmental sustainability

For a time now, our city has been criticized for not protecting its natural resources and environmental assets enough. It is an easy target for such criticisms because of our unique asset that has become characteristically part of the charm of this supposedly mountain resort city – the pine trees. An asset that provides for a viable and lucrative ecotourism attraction, and an asset as they say that we are already losing.

I had a chance to go around the remaining forested areas of our city within the barangays of Outlook, Lucnab, Happy Hallow, Country Club Village, Atok Trail, and Kias. While talking with the punong barangays, we were in a consensus for a potential ecopark complex within the pine forests. While dreaming of this possibility, discussions on the dangers of such development were brought out; tossing back and forth projected costs and benefits. It was eventually resolved that there must be a sustainable way. But environmental sustainability entails more than the foliage, flora and fauna. It includes how we are able to sustain the availability of basic resources such as water and energy, not only for residents but also for tourists and visitors. It also involves management of environmental impacts of liquid wastes, solid wastes and all forms of pollution. Looking at our current tourism practices and tourism attractions now, there are existing problems already. Environmental sustainability is when our tourism products and practices is able to preserve and even nourish natural resources and assets to perpetuate for future generations.

Socio-cultural sustainability

The concept of socio-cultural sustainability, I think, is the most misunderstood, as it can have varying and sometimes contradicting school of thoughts. As for Baguio, where indigenous culture and norms are major considerations, the balance between enabling local development and preserving heritage and culture, will always strike some sensitivities in varying degrees, sometimes becoming personal. One of the most interesting conflicts that I have discussed with artists and cultural bearers of the city is their contention that tourism commodifies art and culture.

I cannot blame them because there had been unabashed tourism practices where there are concealed exploitations. And I do think that that is the root of the problem – the exploitation. I always tell the artists and cultural bearers that tourism does not necessarily bring in just buyers or gawkers. Consciously, what tourism does is to invite an audience. The orientation and the experience of this audience to the culture and arts of the locality is what can lay out mutual welfare or possibilities of exploitation; and both may be initiated from either side. That is where the challenge is. I had a talk with a fashion designer and we’re discussing the current trend of using local weaves in contemporary fashion. In this case, the designer becomes like a middle man between an audience, the possible consumer of the apparels, and cultural bearers, who can be an indigenous group who considers traditional weaving patterns and design as a sacred symbol or heritage. I told him that designers must have the responsibility to know the significance and the story behind any cultural allegories, and this should be through and for both parties.

In this way, we can avoid cultural appropriation, and possible exploitation. Socio-cultural sustainability is making sure that our true identity and character as a people and as a city is protected, respected and preserved, while communities progress and are developed as a symbiotic habitat. In short, it is the bolstering of pride of place.

Harley F. Palangchao



Economic sustainability

This principle may be easier to understand but can be complicated to implement. It takes the whole system, from policy makers to enforcers, and from entrepreneurs to consumers, to bring about sustained economic opportunities and growth. For policy makers, it is the challenge of providing rules and regulations that are enablers and not inhibitors. For enforcers, it will be how to ensure consistent standards for tourism products and services. For entrepreneurs and establishments, self-regulation and continuous quality improvement are primary components for sustainable competitive advantage. And for consumers, while consumer rights are protected, it is also important that giving what is due to the value of the product and service will create sustainable benefits for all. All of these must operate in the local setting and context. And we can all start with small acts. One time, we received a very simple but very valid complaint from a tourist. She made a quick stopover before leaving the city boundaries to purchase strawberries from a souvenir and local products store. The tourist claimed that when putting the fruits in a container, the vendor seemingly made it appear that all pieces are in good quality. It was only when she got back to her hometown when she realized that bad and small strawberries were covered by good and big ones. I know that this has become sort of a practice in the city ever since. But such does not make a good reputation for our vendors and the city as a whole.

When we visited Korea last year, I purchased strawberries in a small basket, with the intention to compare it with our own local produce. I did not inspect each piece but when I got back to the hotel, all of the strawberries were of the same large size and all juicy and sweet. I wondered why can’t we do the same? It seems to be a simple question but it might need a lot of answers, again from the whole system. Economic sustainability is providing for an enabling environment to ensure sustained economic opportunities and growth for our constituents.

The above sustainability principles and the consciousness and awareness of them in mind and in action, are what will make the framework for a responsible tourism. It should be pointed out that it is always a shared responsibility. We cannot compel tourists to be responsible if we’ll not do our part, that is, providing what is due to them, commensurate to or even beyond what they have spent for.

CROWD-DRAWER -- The annual Panagbenga Festival is a sought-after tourism and cultural event in northern Luzon. -- Ofelia C. Empian



Hospitality is providing beyond what is called for.

So on September 27, as a vehicle to converge all tourism stakeholders and professionals, and in partnership with the reconvened Baguio Tourism Council, a Baguio Tourism Summit will be held to emphasize this re-invigorated drive for sustainable and responsible tourism through a forum, and the presentation of the Baguio Tourism Development Plan, which at this time, can have the big chance to be implemented – enough reason for all of us to look forward to.
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