Rice terraces to reopen to tourists in December if Banaue hits herd immunity
BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — The Banaue rice terraces of Ifugao may reopen gradually to leisure travel in the middle of December as the government ramps up vaccinations to finally bring this small town’s economy back on track, Mayor John Wesley Dulawan said on Saturday.
Banaue is predominantly a tourist town where 98 percent of businesses rely on visitors, Dulawan said.
Many residents have converted idle terraces into vegetable gardens in order to cope with two years of the pandemic. Other neighborhoods repaired damaged terraces during the quarantines.
The Banaue government has yet to quantify the losses borne by small businesses, like accommodation facilities and crafts makers, in two years of quarantines, said Dulawan, a physician, on the sidelines of a Cordillera weaving exhibit held at the Department of Tourism Cordillera office in Baguio.
But a soft opening will be contingent upon Banaue town achieving herd immunity before Dec. 10, when the municipal government is scheduled to assess its health and vaccination status, Dulawan said.
To date, over 40 percent of Banaue’s residents have received one dose while over 30 percent have been fully vaccinated.
“The preference is for 70 percent [of Banaue’s population of 20,652 as of the 2020 census] to be fully vaccinated,” before the municipality allows up to 200 guests each week to again tour the most photographed terraces in Ifugao, the mayor said.
However, the government may consider a “pilot reopening” even if 70 percent represents people who have received at least one jab. “Ideally one injection gives you protection of about 67 percent,” Dulawan said.
The Bangaan and Batad terraces of Banaue form part of the collective Ifugao rice terraces that have been declared a world heritage site. The terraces, which were carved out of the mountains centuries ago, are renowned for their indigenous yet sophisticated irrigation and water recycling systems.
In 2019, Ifugao drew most of the Cordillera’s foreign tourists who trekked to Banaue, the terraces in the municipalities of Mayoyao and Hungduan, and Nagacadan rice terraces in Kiangan town.
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