YESTERDAY, an article about Baguio published in the Daily Tribune caught my eye. The headline which read “Baguio economy back on track” perfectly summarized what’s considered great news about the city.
According to the article, the Philippine Statistics Authority in Cordillera region said that the “city’s economy is already back on its feet as it rebounded from a negative 17.1 percent contraction in 2020 to a 9.9 percent growth in 2021. However, the city’s economy valued at P139.2 billion in 2021 was still much lower compared to the 2018 and 2019 levels and thus, the local economy has to gain at least 9.8 percent in 2022 to be able to match the 2018 and 2019 levels.”
Dubbed as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines,” Baguio has indeed remained a popular tourist destination.
However, the city of disappearing pines once known for its cool climate, lush greenery, and picturesque landscapes has been steadily deteriorating.
Post-pandemic, the rapid return of tourism in Baguio is contributing to a variety of environmental, health, and social costs that were already present even before the global onslaught of COVID-19 – costs that have yet to be addressed.
Tourism in Baguio has resulted in several significant environmental costs, including deforestation, pollution, and solid waste management issues.
The construction of new tourist facilities, such as hotels and restaurants, has led to deforestation, further exacerbated by the influx of tourists during peak season. The loss of trees disrupts the natural ecosystem and contributes to the worsening of Baguio’s air quality.
Air and noise pollution are also growing concerns. The increasing number of motor vehicles in the city, many of which are privately owned or used for tourism purposes, results in harmful emissions that have a detrimental impact on air quality.
Noise pollution from vehicle traffic and construction activities also disturb the peace and tranquility that Baguio was once known for.
Solid waste management is another critical issue. The surge in tourist numbers has led to an increase in the volume of garbage generated, putting significant pressure on the city’s waste management system. Improper waste disposal and littering by tourists and tourism-related service providers further aggravate this problem.
The environmental issues related to tourism in Baguio also have direct implications on the health of the local population and visitors.
Poor air quality contributes to respiratory illnesses, particularly among vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly.
The improper disposal of waste, especially plastic waste, poses a risk to public health by polluting water sources and harms animal life.
The return of conventional tourism also has social costs, such as overcrowding, higher cost of living, and cultural erosion.
Overcrowding in public spaces, especially during peak periods, can lead to increased stress and a reduced quality of life for locals – which is precisely why residents avoid going out on weekends or holidays.
The influx of tourists drives up the cost of living, making it difficult for a lot of locals to afford basic necessities. As they say, presyong pang-turista is what you get even at the palengke.
Cultural erosion is another concern, as traditional customs and practices are often overshadowed by the demands of the tourism industry. This may result in the commodification of certain cultural artifacts, and a loss of the essence of cultural identity and heritage.
Who pays in the end?
While tourism has brought economic benefits to Baguio, it has also led to environmental, health, and social costs that cannot be ignored.
Addressing these challenges requires collaborative efforts among government agencies, the private sector, and local communities.
We need to promote, recognize and reward sustainable tourism practices and implement policies that protect the environment and balance the needs of the local community and the tourism industry.
The future of Baguio depends on striking a balance between preserving its natural beauty and accommodating its popularity as a tourist destination.
If we fail, our children and the future generations will end up inheriting a barren city of concrete, devoid of the lush greenery it was once known for.