BAGUIO VISITA AS LONG-TERM MODE OF TOURIST REGULATION
In devising the online platform Baguio Visita or Visitors Information and Travel Assistance to reopen the city to tourists while the Covid-19 pandemic exists, the city government may have finally found the key in managing its influx of tourists and visitors.
The mechanism, which requires a tourist to register online subject to approval upon assessment of compliance to requirements, does not only afford the city a safe way to restart its economy that is largely dependent on tourism, but also could be made a policy in the monitoring and regulation of tourists to keep their number at a manageable level.
With its feature that enables the city to restrict the number of tourists who may enter the city in a day to ensure among others the safety both of the tourists and residents, the Baguio Visita platform would be an ideal way of dealing with the problems the city has been facing every time tourists come in droves during crowd-drawing events like the Panagbenga, Holy Week, Christmas season, and long weekends, aside from conventions and big events held in the city.
It can also provide the city government, the Department of Tourism, and other concerned agencies a way of coming up with the accurate data on tourists that would give a reliable picture of the local tourism situation – something the city has yet to attain, leaving authorities relying on estimates or incomplete tourist count – which could now be used as a basis for actions and in crafting related legislations.
If the city soon decides to adopt this new normal intervention in tourism for the long run, we suggest making it more effective and viable by laying out next the groundwork for a well-coordinated setup, which means including all tourism stakeholders in the picture.
Among others, there is a need to set up a strict border control, bearing in mind the various entry points to the city. There is a need to find a way to get tourists registered when do-it-yourself travel is already allowed, particularly those who will use mass public transport when getting into the city.
Since the city started letting in tourists from Region 1 this month, it is easy to track the movements of tourists because they use private vehicles and tour agencies and hotels are helping in monitoring them, while tours are also guided. When we receive more tourists and travel restrictions are further eased, the challenge is in dealing with quantity, how to facilitate the processing of their registration and deal with the time it would take in checking tourist passes at entry points.
If we choose to still monitor tourists’ movements to assure they will stick to their itinerary and limit the time of their stay, we need to consider those who would soon avail of transient houses or living with relatives or friends during their stay. Like what was initially done with hotels, the city could also tie up with other accommodation facilities, so there needs to be a database on them, aside from first ensuring these facilities are accredited by the city and the DOT.
We expect this plan to require a lot of tasks that need to be assigned and synchronized, and positions to consider when the new normal of tourism is in full swing, when we can be more confident of rebooting our economy without compromising public health. But the city, along with Boracay Island which also experienced tourism woes, has made the move, and is proving that it can be done. Adopting and expanding the concepts on which the Baguio Visita has been founded and making it a permanent way of regulating the number of tourists in the city may be difficult, but not impossible. But for it to work, getting the city stakeholders from the city, concerned agencies, and our neighboring local government units to participate and cooperate is crucial.
To say that this tourist city can always revert to how things were – when we have to endure the price of going beyond our carrying capacity and enjoy a bustling economy at the expense of the environment, peace and order, and convenience of residents – would render an innovative idea a lost opportunity to effectively manage Baguio’s tourism industry.
The challenge for the city and its stakeholders now is how to use its interventions against the Covid-19 pandemic to its advantage and in becoming a better Baguio under the new normal.