FOLLOWING a period of having no tourist caps, Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong said on Thursday that the city will continue not to limit its daily tourist count as Panagbenga season approaches.
Currently, there is still no cap on the amount of tourists allowed to enter the city. According to Magalong, the reason for the lack of cap is to stress-test the city’s ability to handle large amounts of tourist influx.
Since being downgraded to Alert Level 2 status last February 16, the city has not imposed a quota on tourist arrivals to determine to what extent the city can take in tourists without sacrificing the safety and comfort of both the residents and the visitors themselves.
“Actually, we haven’t put a cap on since we hit Alert Level 2. Because we want to establish our threshold, and we have defined several parameters on how to establish our threshold. One is traffic manageability. Second is, are the people manageable in areas with convergence, especially the markets and the malls? Third is our air quality, because we have real-time air quality monitoring in our smart city command center,” Magalong said.
According to Magalong, last weekend saw even more tourists than last December, where the city welcomed an estimated 25,000 tourists.
“We’re looking at about 25,000 visitors here in the past three days. The highest one was last Friday, where we approved 21,000 visitors,” Magalong said.
He added that unlike in the past where gridlock was a constant concern, even with the high numbers of tourists, traffic was manageable and the flow of vehicles continued.
Seeing that the situation was manageable even with 25,000 tourists, Magalong said that the city is eyeing a continuation of uncapped visitor counts, especially as Baguio goes to Alert Level 1, which means lowered restrictions.
COVID-19 cases in the city are projected to increase with its opening to tourism, but according to Magalong, the system is well-prepared to handle the surge and balance safety with the economy.
Magalong said several parameters were defined to establish the threshold, including manageability of traffic; manageability of people, especially in places where there are convergence like markets and malls; air quality and crowd counting that could be monitored in real time by the city’s Smart City System.
“This is already the concept of our recovery. We will again engage with the private and business sectors for us to be able to create that enabling environment. We need to help them recover as we transition to the new normal,” the mayor said.
He, however, cautioned residents and visitors not to be complacent and continue to strictly observe minimum public health standards like the wearing of face masks and practicing good physical hygiene.
The mayor also pointed out that even if Alert Level 1 allows 100 percent capacity in establishments, this will be slowly implemented in the city in the next few days.
As to the matter of inter-regional transportation, the mayor said he has already talked with the LTFRB and that all the city has to do is to endorse the requests of the bus companies.
“We have again endorsed another bus company to open their routes to Regions 2 and 3. So tuloy-tuloy pero dahan-dahan at hindi natin pwedeng biglain lahat. But definitely, we are going to favorably endorse all the routes to the LTFRB,” he said
Last Feb. 25, the city posted the highest single day tourist arrivals since the pandemic started at around 15,000.
The weekend tourist crowd was estimated at 20,000 and vehicle and human traffic was observed to be fine prompting observers to consider the number as the possible daily limit.
The city has been placed under Alert Level 1 beginning March 1 entailing more relaxed quarantine rules including entry protocols for tourists.
But as much as the city wants to go all out in reopening its tourism industry to help businesses and its economy recover from the pandemic-driven slump, it also has to consider the need to avoid the effects of over-tourism and ensure the comfort and safety of both the residents and visitors by maintaining some health protocols due to the continuing COVID-19) threat, the mayor said.
Thus there is a need to determine the threshold and still maintain some entry requirements like registration with the visita.baguio.gov.ph to monitor arrivals and ensure that the limit is observed, vaccination and negative test results for those who are not immunized.
City Tourism Operations Officer Aloysius Mapalo said the city wants to “move towards the new normal sustainable tourism” where the needs of the residents, visitors and the economic sectors are balanced and met.
“We can’t afford to really overcrowd especially with COVID-19 still around but at the same time allow as many tourists we can tolerate to also help our businessmen recover,” he said.
Mapalo said the city’s maximum accommodation capacity is 25,000 to 30,000 but the city can set its threshold at 20,000.
He also stressed that the city needs to maintain entry requirements, particularly registration to monitor arrivals and requirement of vaccination proofs and negative test results “to ensure mutual protection as a surge is still possible without protection.”
“Baguio has the highest vaccination rate among local government units in the north. We can have a good level of confidence for our tourism frontliners (they are 100 percent vaccinated) and residents, but we like the same confidence for our visitors, thus the required full vaccination before entry. Triage is a frontline defense to make sure a visitor is truly fully vaccinated,” he said.
Mapalo said that after the city lowered the tourist limit to 4,000 due to its Alert Level 3 status last January, the city’s actual tourist arrivals dropped sharply last January with only 39,507 as compared to December 2021’s record of 147,145.
It picked up last February with the city registering 46,676 only from Feb. 1-20. – with reports from Gaby Keith and Aileen P. Refuerzo