BAGUIO CITY – Provinces in Region 1 are gearing to gradually open their economy with the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Baguio City on creating a “tourism bubble” for Northern Luzon.
In a meeting with Baguio mayor Benjamin Magalong, governors and representatives from Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte agreed to look for areas of cooperation to promote tourism. The agreement includes the gradual opening of their borders to each other for local tourists.
The MOU includes provisions on undertaking creative activities to make it more attractive for tourists to visit the areas. They will also facilitate safe and convenient travel, including possible unified guidelines for border checks.
Despite the easing, essential health and safety protocols set by the Department of Health and the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases will remain in force.
The meeting and signing of the agreement, held at the Baguio Country Club, coincided with the 111th Baguio Day Celebration on September 1.
It was in the same event that Magalong announced the tentative opening of Baguio to tourists on September 21. However, the city will only welcome local tourists from Region 1.
The chief executives of the two Ilocos provinces said they are looking forward to the actualization of the program since tourism is one of the primary sources of revenue.
Ilocos Sur Governor Ryan Singson said they have been waiting for the opportunity to open the province to tourists and jumpstart the economy. According to him, about 5000 individuals lost their livelihood because of the pandemic. He said the province incurred considerable losses, especially Vigan City, which depends mostly on the promotion of its cultural resources.
The governor acknowledged that while they are preparing for the opening, the province has yet to set up protocols to tighten its health and safety protocols. He said the province learned from the experience of Baguio in facing the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis. He added that he is willing to copy good practices that are appropriate in the locality.
Singson said the provincial government is doing everything to jumpstart the local economy. He shared that they have started introducing programs to adapt to the new normal, which includes a demonstration from investors for a “smart province.”
Meanwhile, Ilocos Norte Governor Matthew Manotoc said that despite the imposed travel requirements, he sees no problem for the lower and middle class to enjoy the opportunity to travel. He also assured the public that they would find means to make tours and travels in the province affordable.
According to him, there are many ways to economize and the cost of taking a vacation is not that high. The governor said they could even look into the possibility of subsidizing the sector.
He said they have to take steps to recover from the economic dislocation from the pandemic since businesses and investors are “getting frustrated and impatient.”
The governor noted that the cooperation among LGUs is very timely since tourism has always been one of the top sources of income for the Ilocos provinces.
The governor said the undertaking is viable since Baguio has a cold climate while Ilocos is warm so residence can experience a change of environment. He also expressed confidence that the plan will work. He said he trusts the leadership and competence of his fellow LGU chiefs.
Manotoc recalled that he and Singson were planning to open inter-provincial travel but have to cancel it after the surge of cases in both provinces. Ilocos Sur had an outbreak back in late July, and early August followed by a wave of positive cases in Ilocos Norte.
The governor said despite the restrictions, open spaces like parks and the beach have remained open in the province to allow residents to breathe fresh air and enjoy the outdoors. It was temporarily suspended when the localized outbreak occurred, but are now again open. ●