Tourism in Baguio City and the future of tourism in The Cordilleras

Every time I take up temporary accommodation where I work, I come away with thoughts about the local hotel or accommodation industry. I think that there’s plenty of room for improvement, in terms of matching supply with consumer goals, tastes, preferences, and budgets. My observation and experience is that investments in the hotel and accommodation industry, particularly outside Metro Manila, are concentrated in town centers and CBDs; when it isn’t, as in the case of resort-type and heritage-focused accommodation (so-called cultural showcases), the design and materials do not exactly blend in with the natural or cultural surroundings. There are, as a result, potential consumers whose needs are unmet.

Take for example Baguio City, marketed as the country’s mountain resort. When you come in here though there’s no mountain resort accommodation or experience to speak of. Put up the curtains of your room and you’d see sights of a blighted City. The City’s best offer – The Manor at Camp John Hay – is too “urbane” to be a true mountain resort.

What therefore could distinguish the hotel and accommodation industry in Baguio City or the Cordilleras for that matter from those offered in the rest of the country?

1. The real deal: mountain resort and wilderness experience

Here and there in the Cordilleras (and elsewhere in the country) are ghost towns, communities where mining operations have ceased. I’ve been to some and if there’s a sight that could wrench your soul out of your body, an abandoned settlement beside an abandoned open mining pit is the one. But following the adage that there is healing and hope after devastation, these places can be redeemed into beautiful places once more.

An example: Dunton Hot Springs (San Juan Mountains, Colorado) located in what was once a mining town.

2. The forest-in-a-modern-setting experience

What does it feel to wake up to and sleep with trees all around you? I bet they’ll grow into you, and so probably your life will never be the same again without these. So instead of yakking about unsustainable cutting of trees, why not make trees a real experience of tourists especially local tourists – perhaps they’ll come away as the hoped-for green champions in their home communities.

An example: Juvet, Valldal, Norway. The review in The Guardian reads A landscape hotel with rooms embedded in the forest, Juvet has seven stark glass-box dwellings on stilts above birch, aspen and pine forest. When you open the door, it’s as if nature rushes in to greet you through the massive panoramic windows, though the interiors are sleek. The river Valldøla tumbles by just outside, and there’s a communal hot tub and sauna, equally minimalist, to ensure that the stunning beauty of the landscape takes centre stage.

Source: World’s Most Unusual Hotels. The Guardian.

3. Mountain resorts showcasing mountain sports and livelihoods

The campgrounds in Mount Pulag will be developed sooner or later into a more pleasant and comfortable accommodation. The best time is soon, when the property is not yet that trampled on. Besides mountain climbing, hotels and accommodation can link up with and showcase native industries such as wine-making from red rice (which is a native practice) and berries (e.g. strawberries, blackberries), coffee-making, and cloth-making (e.g. weaves). How can something become world class when it is unknown by the world, right? And yes real horse-back riding, that is, in the open (not in parks) can be revived.

Example 1: Steenberg Hotel and Vineyards (Cape Town, South Africa). Set in a vineyard, the hotel offers a tour of the farm and wine tasting.

Source: The New York Times

Source: Steenberg Hotel & Vineyards

Example 2: Finca Rosa Blanca (San Jose, Costa Rica). Set in a tropical forest, the inn offers coffee and bird tours. Coffee growing is somewhat a stunted industry in the Cordilleras and linking it with tourism could be the boost it’s waiting for. The Cordilleras is also rich in wildlife which can be showcased in their natural habitats.

Source: fincarosablanca.com

At the core of tourism in the Cordilleras is regional development. Baguio City by my assessment is way too built up to satisfy tourists’ and travelers’ search of that mountain resort or summer capital experience. Within the region, the City is more and more becoming what Metro Manila is to the National Capital Region – a financial hub (supposedly, if this potential is harnessed). Relative to tourism, I foresee the City as becoming a jump-off point for other places in the region and more appropriate as the regional center for MICE. Now more than ever, before the Cordilleran landscape is marred by unsustainable human activities, DOT-Cordillera has to recognize the change that has slowly creeped into the City and should stretch its creative and imaginative juices some more.

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