Opening Sagada to tourists still uncertain

Baguio City's 112th Charter Day anniversary was celebrated on September 1 with a program at the Baguio Convention Center where minimum public health standards were observed. A limited audience was accomodated led by Congressman Marquez Go, Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan, members of the City Council, and city executives. Public viewing was virtual, as with the delivery of the messages of President Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Tito Sotto, and Mayor Benjamin Magalong (pre-recprded) which included the State of the City. Department of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat served was this year's guest of honor and speaker.**Photos by Neil Clark Ongchangco

SAGADA, Mtn. Province – Are you ready?
That was the common query posed by the Department of Tourism and by the outsider-visitors during the dry run conducted on August 26-28, 2021 at Sagada supposedly to gauge the preparedness of the municipality to open to tourists.
The dry run was to assess the preparedness of the municipality before it opens for tourism from online registration of guests and tourists, entry points and checkpoints including the assessment of entry protocols up to the registration for accommodations.
Before the assessment on the third day, selected invited guests and visitors representing the Department of Tourism – Cordillera, Provincial Tourism Office, the tour operators, media representing various outfits in the region, the local government unit, and local tour guides visited the tourism attractions in the municipality.
These visits were also to evaluate the readiness of the destinations in accepting tourists and visitors.
In the assessment meeting, DOT OIC Director Jovy Ganongan posed a direct question to the local participants: Are you ready? The question was met with squinted eyes searching for certainties and assurances.
Some glitches in the online registrations were noted and the local tourism staff directly involved voiced out assurances for improvement.
But the glaring deficiency is with the accommodation sector. There are reportedly only 10 accommodation establishments that are compliant with DOT requirements out of 172. Only 3 souvenir shops were accredited out of many whose customers would line up all the way to the road prior to the pandemic.
Now, the question is, if tourism would be opened this time, would the 10 compliant establishments be enough to accommodate tourists? Would tourists coming in stay in establishments without Certificates of Compliance with DOT accreditation requirements in the event that the compliant ones cannot accommodate them?
Marites Abad, the Municipal Tourism Action Officer, however, clarified that the number was true for some time but that additional accommodation estab;ishments are now complying with the requirements needed to operate.
She informed sthat the stakeholders will be meeting soon with the MIATF and local officials to look into the possibility of opening up for tourists.
Another concern is that only 2,000 individuals were vaccinated out of the 8,000 population. This is far from the required number to have herd immunity. Visitors coming in may be carriers of the dreaded virus was the fear of the local residents.
The question as to which shall prevail, the health or livelihood of the local people persists during the consultation meeting. There should be no question on this as the participants acknowledged that their livelihood is important but the health of the people is the primary consideration.
Mayor James Pooten, Jr., in an interview heard over the Bombo Radyo last week, cautioned visitors and tourists and even Isagadas who wants to go home. “If your travel is not that essential, please do not come”, he said.
He said that opening of tourism for Sagada will be decided later on with the involvement of the stakeholders, municipal IATF, and the municipal officials iwith due consideration of prevailing Corona Virus updates.
Meanwhile, DOT OIC Director Jovy Ganongan and the provincial government deferred the decision on whether local government units should open their respective municipalities for tourism. **ROGER SACYATEN

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