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Christmas lantern parade tests return of Baguio festivals

/ 05:02 AM November 24, 2022
Saint Louis Univeristy lantern parade STORY: Christmas lantern parade tests return of Baguio festivals

BEARERS OF LIGHT | For several years before the pandemic, Baguio schools, like Saint Louis University (SLU), stage lantern parades to perk up the Christmas holidays in the summer capital. The local government has allowed SLU — its students shown in this 2014 photo — to resume the Christmas tradition on Dec. 1 with the easing of health restrictions. (Photo by RICHARD BALONGLONG)

BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — A university-led lantern parade that will launch the Christmas season in the summer capital on Dec. 1 will test crowd control regulations in preparation for the return of all Baguio festivals next year, the city’s top tourism official said on Tuesday.

The conduct of the Christmas lantern parade of Saint Louis University (SLU), one of the city’s biggest educational institutions, would be used to collect data and feedback for the possible staging of crowd-drawing street dancing and float parades of Panagbenga (Baguio Flower Festival) that have not been seen since the 2020 community lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Christmas event would be the first big parade to be approved under the pandemic, said Aloysius Mapalo, city tourism operations supervisor.

Hundreds of SLU students used to march down Session Road every December carrying lanterns of different designs but the light show had been stopped because of strict prohibitions against mass gatherings.

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The city government is restarting tourism activities as the summer capital climbs out of the economic rut brought about by the pandemic, Mapalo said.

According to the city treasury, Baguio revenues this year totaled P2.180 billion, which was short of its P2.2 billion target as of Oct. 31.

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However, Baguio has been recording as many as 150,000 weekly guests on what should have been a lean tourist season during the rainy months, after Mayor Benjamin Magalong eased or removed most public health restrictions in the city, Mapalo said.

The Baguio Flower Festival Foundation Inc. has not yet finalized its 2023 events, he said, awaiting feedback as to how Baguio controls large crowds on Dec. 1.

The lantern parade will proceed after Baguio switches on its Christmas tree during a lighting ceremony.

Students carrying lanterns will walk and dance along a lane of downtown Baguio’s main street, while residents and tourists who will watch the event will be allocated spots on the other lane.

Keeping the audience from crowding will be the responsibility of the public order and safety division and the Baguio police, Mapalo said.

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The pacing of the parade will also be measured so “the audience can take in the experience of each performance at certain stages of the road,” he said.

“So people would not be compelled to follow the parade down to Melvin Jones Grandstand at Burnham Park where the students will gather,” Mapalo added.

This time and motion exercise would help local officials improve next year’s parades without disrupting public safety rules, he said.

Economic trend

Tourism is still a primary source of city revenues, although Baguio is also the education and financial center of the Cordillera.

In 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority estimated that 1.5 million tourists visited Baguio, “although that may not be the complete picture” because only 40 percent of about 900 accommodation facilities issued booking reports at the time, Mapalo said.

He said the lockdowns two years ago saw tourism numbers plunge by 80 percent (268,000 tourists), which dropped even further last year to 200,000 because of the spike in infections triggered by COVID-19 variants.

Baguio experienced a rebound this year, with projections that the city would have hosted 1.2 million tourists by year-end.

The 2020-2021 tourism lull allowed Baguio to improve its parks, and develop marketing and tracking systems that keep tourists healthy and safe, Mapalo said.

The Botanical Garden, for instance, has been renovated and is currently showcasing the “World Christmas Gardens” as its holiday attraction.

A public health tracking platform called the Baguio Visita (Visitor Information and Travel Assistant) has been transformed into a travel app, which helps tourists book hotels and transportation.

The app will also provide a directory of accredited hotels, inns, and transient homes to curb scams, and a listing of restaurants and destinations, to include popular spots in Baguio’s neighboring Benguet towns of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay.

Visita will now help tourists design their own itinerary, pitching suggestions based on the requests made online by each guest.

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TAGS: Baguio Christmas lantern parade, Baguio COVID-19 restrictions, Baguio festivals, Saint Louis University
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