Baguio blooms anew as Panagbenga crowd seen to make a comeback
BAGUIO CITY—This year’s Panagbenga (Baguio Flower Festival) officially opened on Thursday, ushering in what local officials described as a “full recovery” of the city’s tourism industry after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In one year’s time, most [tourism-oriented] establishments were able to recover from two years worth of losses,” said Anthony de Leon, executive committee chair of the Baguio Flower Festival Foundation Inc. (BFFFI), during a Wednesday briefing ahead of the 28th staging of Panagbenga.
He said local tourism had bounced back from the social and economic impact of the health and mobility restrictions at the height of the pandemic, beating a projection that it would take three years for tourism to overcome the pandemic’s effect on accommodation facilities, restaurants and tour services.
De Leon, also manager of the Baguio Country Club, said the city’s tourism’s revival was due in part to the “revenge travel” phenomenon, a term for the surge of family vacations and nature trips that took place immediately after the government eased travel restrictions.
But he noted that revenge trips might have “plateaued,” and the high rate of heavy weekend tourism in Baguio might actually match the frequency of visitors before the pandemic was declared in March 2020.
According to a profile presented by city tourism supervising officer Aloysius Mapalo at the city’s Jan. 12 tourism planning congress, the number of guests booked in hotels and inns rose significantly from half a million in 2011 to 1.115 million in 2015, 1.760 million in 2017 and 1.536 million in 2019.
The community lockdowns and quarantines saw bookings plummet to 268,912 in 2020 and 267,580 in 2021 before skyrocketing once more to 1.042 million in 2022 and an estimated 1.132 million last year.
De Leon said this year’s festival would likely draw “prepandemic” levels of crowds.
Panagbenga, one of Baguio’s biggest attractions between Christmas and Holy Week, opens with a drum and lyre parade. But this was moved to Feb. 3, where six sets of grade school students are scheduled to perform, to avoid disrupting the school week, said BFFFI president Frederico Alquiros.