IN Vincent Cabreza’s May 26 Philippine Daily Inquirer story entitled “Baguio Still Has Room For Tourists, But Resources Dwindling” which detailed DENR’s Watershed and Water Resources Research Development and Extension Center (WWRRDEC) computation of the city’s tourism threshold of 2,215,141 guests each year, one particular passage stood out.
But the city government should make trips to the city “more expensive” to trim down on tourist traffic without jeopardizing the income derived from this industry, because other resources like roads and water are no longer sufficient for the Baguio population, said WWRRDEC head Helen Madumba at a briefing on Wednesday.
That Baguio is overrun again with tourists has been quite apparent in the last few days, if you have been downtown. Traffic is gridlocked, shopping malls are full and there are reports of water shortages even on BWD designated days for some neighborhoods. Indeed, the actual experience of locals on the ground would easily validate the DENR’s data that tourists have exceeded the city’s carrying capacity. The fact that university students aren’t even back yet in large numbers in the city because of distance learning, indeed is a cause for concern. But is making tourism “more expensive” the solution to trimming down the number of tourists?
The “High Value with Low Impact” model of tourism first turned heads in tourism circles when Bhutan turned to it to limit the effects of tourism on the Himalayan Kingdom. While Bhutan does not limit the entry of tourists per se, it imposes a daily tariff of 200USD per tourist for their stay. While this may sound outrageously expensive, this daily tariff covers the cost of a hotel, meals, transportation and a guide. Since the tariff goes directly to tourism stakeholders, they are able to generate quite a bit of revenue while keeping tourist numbers low.
When I spent a week in Bhutan a couple of years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by how intact their local culture was and how I saw no more than ten other tourists during my stay there. Although I was on a business trip (doing a workshop on pitching and communication skills for a government agency), I was able to visit quite a few of their temples and monasteries in and around the capital city of Thimpu.
Curiously enough it felt and looked like a more spread out Sagada, with less people and less vehicular traffic but with a few more commercial stores but less restaurants and places to eat. There was only one stoplight in the country, and only one ATM machine. Like Baguio, Thimpu is also nestled in the mountains and landing in the airport at Paro is a nerve-wracking experience, much like the way it was when commercial flights were still flying into Loakan. Baguio is clearly more urban and developed and while Bhutan’s total land area is about the same as Mindanao it has a population that is just a little over twice the population of Baguio.
What might a “High Value and Low Impact” a la Bhutan look like if we did it in Baguio? Let’s throw some ideas on the wall and see what sticks, shall we?
Start with tourists having to pay a minimum daily tariff coming in; one that will give vouchers for a hotel or pensionne stay, food vouchers that can be redeemed at any of our restaurants, public transport vouchers that can be used on our jeeps and taxis: all through our VISITA Baguio QR codes. The epidemic has shown us that we can impose strict border controls. It’s about time we use the systems we have in place to generate revenue for the city.
And what might the minimum daily tariff be? Start at 1,999 pesos a day per day per person, with a rate of 6,999 for a family of four. That would certainly discourage mass tourism while still ensuring tourism revenues will still go to establishments duly registered with and paying the right taxes to the government; tax money that will go to the city’s efforts to keep Baguio livable for its residents: steady water supply and electricity, garbage collection, housing and traffic management. Impose a 999 peso per day congestion fee for all tourist cars to encourage tourists to just use public transportation while they are in our city.
Does it sound like a crazy idea? Certainly. Will it work? It certainly works for Bhutan.
But it will take nerves of steel and unwavering commitment from our city government. But it may really be time to consider drastic ideas like this to save us from the grim scenario that the DENR study shows is imminent.
The time to act is now.