BAGUIO CITY – The town of Sagada in Mountain Province is not keen on reopening its doors to tourists which was originally set in mid-September.
“Sa sitwasyon ngayon (with the current situation), I don’t see us opening this September especially with cases in other areas surging,” Mayor James Pooten said in a phone interview Wednesday night.
Sagada logged 10 new cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) based on the latest data from the Rural Health Unit as of Wednesday morning, bringing the town’s total number of infections to 644.
“If okay sa amin, sa iba hindi naman (while we are okay, the others [areas] are not,” he added.
Pooten said the municipal tourism council and the local Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) would still meet for the result of the assessment of the dry-run on tourism activities done in late August.
Based on the report of the Provincial Health Office on Wednesday, 27 new cases brought the active count to 179 out of a total of 5,087 infections across the 10 towns of Mountain Province.
The provinces of Benguet and Ifugao which are adjacent to Mountain Province have 1,144 and 277 active cases, respectively, while the whole Cordillera Region has 5,542 active cases.
This city, which has nearly 1,600 active cases, implements strict border control as is also a jump-off point for tourists going to Sagada.
Pooten said another factor they are considering is the reluctance of tourists to come to Sagada due to lockdowns in adjacent provinces and other regions.
He, however, said establishments are ready and have put in place adjustments to adapt to the new normal of doing tourism activities.
Pooten said they will also need to establish an online registration of tourists before they again open their borders to tourism.
Vaccination for tourism stakeholders
The Sagada Municipal Health Office started the vaccination of tourism stakeholders on Sept. 7 and will last until Sept. 10.
“This is part of the LGU Sagada’s effort in the process for the recovery of its local economy. Tourism and its service industry largely contribute to the income generation and employment of Sagada,” the local government posted on its official page on Sept. 7.
Pooten said that before the pandemic, about 70 percent of Sagada’s central business district is engaged in tourism.
There were about 1,200 to 1,300 serving as tour guides, about 300 inns and restaurants, around a hundred souvenir shops, and the chain is created with the establishments employing locals, while the souvenir shops source products from suppliers who also employ workers.
He said the town lost PHP10 million in 2020 from its share of the tourist’s registration fee.
The municipal government is also seeing a low or no collection of local taxpayers for 2021.
With the pandemic greatly affecting Sagada, the locals relying upon income from tourism have resorted to other activities.
“Lahat nagreremedyo kung ano ang gagawin pero kahit paano nakaka-survive naman. Nagsimula na rin gumalaw ang economy when there was an easing of movement in many areas (everyone is trying to cope and looked for things they can do to survive a bit. The economy started to when with restrictions eased),” he said.
Some went back to doing construction work, others returned to farming, while some shifted to being drivers.
A few others also temporarily moved to other places for other income-generating activities.
“Yan nga ang malaki ang impact sa livelihood talaga (it has a big impact on livelihood),” he said.
While there is training provided by different government agencies to equip the locals with new skills, the lack of activity remains unable to provide for the needs of the people.
“To tell you frankly, wala na ang employment (there is no more employment),” Pooten said.
Before the pandemic, Sagada has attained international attention and is widely visited by tourists from all over the world, especially those from Europe for its extraordinary natural attractions like the caves with stalactites and stalagmites, waterfalls, sunrise view, and the hanging coffins. /Liza Agoot (PNA)