Aquino comment on Baguio sparks debate on tourism

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BAGUIO CITY—President Benigno Aquino’s disappointment over the poor state of the summer capital’s environment has sparked a debate among Baguio officials over the correct number of the city’s annual tourists.

During the Team PNoy campaign rally here on March 17, the President repeated the observations he made about a deteriorating Baguio, among them the incursion of population into once-popular tourist spots, which he first expressed to Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon in 2011.

At a news conference about Holy Week and summer activities in the city on Wednesday, Baguio Rep. Bernardo Vergara said Mr. Aquino would not treat Baguio too harshly if the city’s tourism stakeholders had a better way of recording tourist arrivals.

Vergara, who is running for reelection with the United Nationalist Alliance, suspected that the city’s tourism figures were underreported, and people who troop annually to the Baguio Flower Festival should have raised the city’s tourism figures substantially to show that Baguio remains a top tourist drawer.

Records from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) showed that the number of foreigners, domestic tourists and balikbayan who visited Baguio from 2005 to 2011 increased.

The NSCB said the city hosted 637,298 tourists in 2005, and the figure peaked at 814,975 visitors in 2008. But this dropped to 552,497 visitors in 2011.

“We should not allow anyone to shout out to other parts of the country that Baguio is no longer an attractive destination. We must all cooperate so this [image] is not the country’s portrait of Baguio,” he said.

For the Lenten weekend alone, the Baguio police expect to serve a “floating population of 400,000,” said Senior Supt. Jesus Cambay, city police director, at the news conference.

Cambay said a “floating population” referred to visitors, transient students who did not leave for the summer break and merchants from neighboring towns who travel to Baguio to sell their wares in anticipation of the summer influx of tourists.

Anthony de Leon, head of  Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio  and a flower festival organizer, said the city needed a better system for tracking down its visitors. Vincent Cabreza and Frank Cimatu, Inquirer Northern Luzon

 

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