February 3, 2023

ATOK, Benguet – There is no compromise if public health is on the line.

Despite mounting clamor for one of Benguet’s most visited towns to reopen to tourists, its officials are firm in their resolve that they will only accommodate visitors when all guidelines have been ironed out.

This means this local government has to come up first with policies on parking, pre-registration, carrying capacity management, and health and sanitation protocols, among others.

Mayor Raymundo Sarac said that based on the initial assessment done by the Department of Tourism recently, many of the frequented spots in town do not have restrooms, adequate parking areas, and are not equipped with trash bins.

Atok is an emerging agri-tourism spot in Benguet, next to the capital town of La Trinidad known for its strawberry fields and rose farms. 

Most of the tourist spots in this town are operated by private enterprises. On the other hand, some spots were not originally designed to be a tourist spot but were frequented anyway because of the picturesque views, Sarac said.

Apart from the health protocols that they have to include in the guidelines, Sarac said the LGU and the affected businessmen have to address the observations raised by the DOT.

Sarac said prior to the lockdown, he was issued a memorandum by the Department of the Interior and Local Government because of the volume of vehicles that parked along portions of the national road where some tourist spots are located.

As of now, only the Northern Blossom flower farm and the Haight’s Place have met the DOT standards.

“We do not object to the reopening but not now,” Sarac said.

If the provincial IATF and the DOT approve the guidelines, Sarac said the tentative target date for reopening would be on January 2021 but on a limited scale.

Tourists who will be allowed should be residents of Benguet only. He said pre-booking and hiring of tourist guides will be mandatory.

Before the lockdown, Sarac estimated that the number of tourists visiting Haight’s Place and Northern Blossom was 1,000 people daily.

In consultation with the DOT, the residents, business owners, and other stakeholders, Sarac said they will determine how many people should be accommodated at a given time at both areas.

The peak tourism season in Atok is December to February where people flock at one of the highest towns in the country to experience cool weather brought about by the Siberian winds.

Primarily an agricultural town, Sarac said Atok can survive without tourism in the meantime.

The Municipal Tourism Council is scheduled to present tourism regulation guidelines to the stakeholders next month. – Rimaliza A. Opiña