Baguio tourism revisited
Stella Maria L. de Guia
I am extremely grateful that some of the old notes of Virginia “Gene” Oteyza de Guia, first elected woman councilor, later vice mayor and acting city mayor, were given to me by her daughter Patricia de Guia-Eriksson after Auntie Gene passed away in 2015.
Of the “Three Witches or Switches”, Leonie San Agustin was the first to go in 2011 followed by Cecile Afable in 2012. Leonie and Gene were best friends since Grade 2. These nonagenarians, tourism boosters, and environment warriors all, decided it was time for them to frolic in heaven. And so off they went one after the other. Aunty Gene would always say after tita Leonie passed away, “Tawagin nyo nga si Leonie at hindi ko nakikita.” Now, with this pandemic, going over her reports, maps and clippings (some date as far as 1968) has given me the impetus to revisit Baguio’s tourism history.
I knew aunty Gene was a tour operator before. She was a pioneer tourism booster. She was promoting tourism in Baguio long before the formal creation of the Ministry of Tourism in 1973 after the Board of Travel and Tourist Industry (BTTI). I knew she made a gargantuan effort to collect artifacts from her mayor and governor friends. In fact, some of the oldest artifact collections of the Baguio Museum today date back to her 1947 collection. I was able to chronologically do a historical development of the Baguio Museum based on aunty Gene and tita Leonie’s recollections and notes.
Tita Leonie was the curator and executive director of the museum from 1985 to 2011. I had vague knowledge of how the “Museum of Igolot Architecture” or the Ifugao Village started at the Botanical Garden. Going over my old files and reading old notes, I realized I had a wealth of historical data in my hands. The first Baguio “mimeographed tourist map” was done by Gene when she invited the American Association of Tour Operators and the Association of Tour Operators on a familiarization tour of Baguio in 1969. Wonder of wonders, I still have her handwritten tour itinerary.
According to aunty Gene’s notes, “in 1945 after the WWII carpet bombing totally devastated Baguio next to Manila, tourism was zero.” In the absence of a tourism program by the government and on her own initiative she prepared tourism summer programs to attract tourists to Baguio and to help its economy. Concerts, plays, and ballets were invited. Since tour operation was relatively unknown, Gene organized the Baguio-Banaue tours. She had to establish dependable tourists’ services and raised the level of tour operations, trained guides and worked on transfer services to and from the airport (Baguio and Manila) , city tours, and tours into the Cordillera, hotel programs and reservations and emceeing of evening cultural shows.This was later taken over by tita Leonie with the Baguio Colleges Foundation dance troupe. She was in fact servicing 90 percent of Manila Tour Operator’s requirements. She also played host to the Association of Tour Operation (ATOP) and American Tour Operators familiarization tour of the north. A vital component of tourism marketing.
While working for the City of Baguio in the late 1940s, aunty Gene started collecting artifacts for the “Museum of Igolot Culture” from the mountain provinces, mostly donated by her friends, mayors, and governors. Some were bought, when not given for free and stored these artifacts at a room at City Hall. The collection was later transferred to the University of the Philippines and again stored in a bodega. Then Minister Jose Aspiras of the Ministry of Tourism built a permanent home for the artifacts at the Baguio Mountain Provinces Museum (now the Baguio Museum) as a showcase for culture and heritage in time for the 1978 world chess championship between Russian chess masters Anatoly Karpov and Victor Korchnoi.
Because of the increased tourists visits in the late 60s, aunty Gene and the BTTA decided to develop another tour destination at the Botanical Garden. It was to be named the “Museum of Igorot Architecture” (Ili ti Igolot). AuntyGene thought that with William Scott’s research on mountain architecture, visitors would find it very interesting, if a “buffer zone”or a replica of an Ifugao village can be built for those who cannot visit or travel to the actual site. As president of the BTTA, she raised some funds to build the replicas and to transport the actual huts from the Ifugao interiors to Baguio. It would have a simulated rice terraces as background. Contracted to do the Ifugao huts was Reynaldo Lopez and these were Balen ni Wigan ken Bugan (house of the rich Ifugao), alang or big granary, abong (home of the older Ifugaos who cannot climb the high stairs and a simple Banaue hut. Likewise, Lopez was to supply antique huts from Ifugao and transport them to Baguio at the Igorot Village and these were the Combulo and Batad huts and the ulog. Assiduously helping her in this endeavor were the Commander of John Hay Air base, the Japan Information Center of the Japan Embassy, the mines and some individuals and members of the BTTA and the BTTI. A triangular garden with three Igorot gods was also constructed. Aunty Gene submitted a report to the BTTA in 1970 of the completion of the first phase of the Ili ti Igolot.The second phase was to include the completion of the Bontoc huts, construction of the yao-yao-an (snack kiosk), public comfort rooms, presentation of a canao 70’, an Igorot dance and woodcarving contest with Nars Padilla, the BTTI, the city government and the BTTA. Cultural dance presentation was likewise scheduled.
On May 11, 1973, the Ministry of Tourism formally inaugurated its Baguio Field Office at the Pines Hotel with Bienvenido “Ben” Andaya at tourism field coordinator. A tourism complex was later built at Governor Pack Road which started in 1975 and included the Secretary’s cottage, the field office, the Baguio Mountain Provinces Museum and the Sunshine Park. Andaya headed the MOT-PTA offices until the 1986 Edsa Revolution. In 1987, Atty. Arno Sanidad designated the heads of the three offices of the DOT, the PTA and the Philippine Convention Bureau (renamed Philippine Convention and Visitor’s Corporation) who managed the Baguio Convention Center until its turnover to the GSIS in 1995. The Baguio Association of Hotels and Inns (BAHAI) was the partner of the Ministry of Tourism then in the implementation of its programs and projects like the “Most Outstanding Employee and Tourism-Oriented Establishment.”
During those times, the tourism offices were flooded with plenty of collateral and promotional materials for distribution to tourists and foreign offices. The 70s and 80s were the golden years of tourism in Baguio and the Cordilleras. The tourism boom carried busloads of tourists from Hongkong, Japan, the U.S. and European countries. These included balikbayans, Reunion for Peace programs veterans and travel agents who were hosted during their familiarization tours. Hotels gave freely. In 1988, the tourism field office was regionalized into the CAR and Region 1 offices, resulting with ultimate transfer of the DOT Region 1 office to La Union.
With the pandemic, tourism would need new strategies, reinvention of slogan and redefined goals and adaptation of new programs to help bring back the economy as we adjust to the new normal. The questions are how and when? With the Almighty’s help we remain optimistic with his guidance and protection.