Thursday, August 6, 2015

Vigan City Convention on Cooperatives and Tourism

“Expanding Tourism in the Cooperative Sector”

Tourism-oriented City

From the onset, the delegates have observed the tourism investments of Vigan, especially in its quest to being the prime destination of the North, and recently, one of the “Seven wonder cities of the world”. The congress venue, for instance, which is one of the best convention centers in the country was constructed by virtue of hard-earned local government loans directed to establishing Vigan City as a “must experience” destination in Asia. It is an investment which caters to tourists and supports the tourist accommodation establishments and tourism servers of Vigan City.
At the Beautiful Vigan Convention Center
Just like other LGUs which are heavily dependent on Tourism, Vigan City has completed all the strategic requirements of Department of Tourism for quality tourism services which include; infrastructure development, signage, directional maps, tourist information and assistance centers, police assistance near core tourism sites, subsidized cultural performers projects, customer service trainings on tourist servers, and clean comfort rooms/ toilets.

The National Tourism Directions

The national tourism development plan was discussed and highlighted by the DOT Regional Director for Region 1 and other guests from DOT.

Tourism is acknowledged as the fastest growing industry in the Philippines. Its direct and indirect economic benefits has put Tourism as a sustainable economic activity. In fact for the past five months this year, tourism attracted 4.27 million tourists which garnered around 93 billion income, or about 11% of the national economy.

Such national importance of tourism have set the following tourism directions especially to LGUs in tourism development; Improve market access and connectivity, Develop and market competitive tourism experience, products, and destination, and Improve institutional, governance, and human resource capacities.

The following infrastructure improvements were discussed by TIEZA who reiterates their agencies’ mandate to assist LGUs infrastructure development. TIEZA, can accommodate proposed tourism infrastructure projects for 1st class municipalities who are willing to shoulder a 60% counterpart.

Tourism Challenges by LGUs

At the captivating Calle Crisologo, Vigan City
Vigan proudly holds the banner of adhering the national tourism banner of “To become the “must experience” destination in Asia”. They succeeded – from their tourism goods of Vigan bagnet, longganisa, empanada, and other Ilokano kakanins, to their implementing mechanisms of building or maintaining a heritage city.

However, just like any LGU, the local government also admitted challenges when they started their campaign of making Vigan a must experience site. They identified Lack of Infrastructure Support and Information/Mechanism to assist/control tourists as primary issues in their development quest.

The representatives from the DILG admitted that there are more roles for Local Governments who are at the forefront of all economic activities, the national government remains only as a support cast.
For the city of Vigan – LGU they have constantly considered the effect of tourism on the community.  “Tourism is not just earning pesos…it must have conscience. It must consider the impact to public health, the environment and the whole community. Local Government should see to it that these are considered.”

Cooperatives on Tourism

“It takes the whole community to develop a sustainable tourism practice”
Cooperatives pride itself as the backbone of local economy. Businesses which are owned not just by sole proprietorship, but of communities have improved the lives of many people. 

In Vigan, cooperatives have organized themselves brilliantly and have invested in tourism related businesses. The primary organization, Nueva Segovia Consortium of Cooperatives, have partnered with the LGU and community and built hotels, a school, a bath and coffee center, a convention center, and an industrial zone. Such feat can only be achieved by tourism-oriented and visionary community cooperatives.

As a constant exercise, cooperatives in the city are encouraged to enhance their capacities in engaging into tourism businesses. Primarily, cooperatives are trained in the following areas:
1.    Product and Destination Development
2.    Tourism Marketing and Promotion

Cooperative Advantage in Tourism Businesses

The 1st Tourism cluster convention is themed with the reigning trend that tourism-related businesses are the priority areas for investments.
The speakers outlined four reasons why cooperatives should invest or engage in tourism-related businesses.
1.    Exempted from Business Taxes
2.    Helps communities – no monopoly of income, ownership of business, easy marketing (people to people)
3.    Cooperatives have Linkages
4.    It serves the community – They have the Community Development Fund (Mandatory)

A number of cooperatives with tourism related businesses like Tam-an Banaue Coop and Paglaum MPC have testified that in a community wherein tourism is a significant industry, or even even when it only has the potential for it, tourism is the only way to improve lives.
Tourists can enjoy a dancing fountain treat every night at the Vigan public park
Promotion of Tourism Investment

In the lectures and sharing, we finally understood that there is only one formula to tourism progress: “Love”.

“LOVE  is the Formula for Sustainable Tourism”
·         Leadership – LGU and Community leadership/shared Leadership
·         Open Business Environment – We need to align support/ policy based on assessment and not assumption.
·         Vision – Do Not stop innovating. We do not stop Cultivating new approaches.
·         Enable and Empower People – Love for the community. Pride for the Place Spirit.
(e.g.: “I am from the Strawberry Capital! I will protect Strawberries and Strawberry farms”)

As they say; “Tourism is like fire; it can cook your food with it, or it can burn your house”

The key is, always, balance.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Plotting the Future for BSU Strawberry Farms

Photo by Tripsiders

The Strawberry Farm’s crimson crop could lose its cream if potentials will not be given the attention it deserve.

The strawberry farm remains to be one of the main destination for tourists in La Trinidad Benguet where its farmers found an avenue to sell their crop. Local producers and farmers who uses the land provided by the Benguet State University (BSU) gained the opportunity to bring their harvests and other goods to the national market where tourists comprise the large portion as their consumers.

 “I came all the way from Cavite just to see the strawberries”, says Nica Torres one of the many tourists who visited the Strawberry Farm to see and buy fresh strawberries and experience first-hand picking from the strawberry patches. This crimson crop of the valley attracts people from different places and have introduce them to Benguet Province’s other attractions as an agri-destination.

The fact that the people themselves are the ones who get to pick the berries straight from their patches keeps people coming from different regions of the country to the Cordillera region. The Strawberry Farm reminds the locals and visitors that Baguio City is not the only source of vacation hotspots in the North. La Trinidad is just among other municipalities in Benguet that offers out of town experience to many travelers and visitors.

Grassroots’ Advocate

There are about 42 farmers who lease farms at the BSU Strawberry Farm.  According to Prof. Danilo P. Padua, former director of the BSU Business Affairs Office and Strawberry farming and production research expert, BSU’s priority is to lend the land to the farmers and allow them to develop their own area in the way they want.

BSU rents out the land to farmers at 15 pesos per square meters in a year. “We rent the land but we put up the stalls, and the farmers are in charge of maintaining and improving the land they rent (Nirerent lang namin yung lupa tapos kami na ang gagawa ng stall at yung sa mga farmer yung lupa nila na nirent ay bahala na sila mag ayus o gawin ang gusto nila.), according to Myrna Akilit, a stall owner at the Strawberry Farm for more than ten years now.

According to Dr. Jones Feliciano, Vice President for Business Affairs of Benguet State University in an interview, the main purpose of the Strawberry Farm is to serve as an income generating project (IGP) of BSU.

As cited on the official website of BSU the Strawberry Farm is included in one of the 21 income generating projects of the University that supplement the subsidy it receives from the General Appropriations Acts (GAA). The IGPS include Bakery, Food Processing Center, Souvenir and Gift Shop, Marketing Center, Multi-Vegetable Production, BSU Garments, RSDC Canteen, Strawberry Restaurant, the Gladiola Center, Agricultural Land Use, Commercial Space Use, Sariling Sikap Program, Strawberry Production Project, Guestels (HMEG), and SLS Canteen, among others.

One of the farmers located at the BSU ATIB-IC shared that the area where they are farming is under development. Farmers in located at the front entrance of the Strawberry farm undergoes training and research for improvement. “Kaming mga farmers ang mag-dedevelop ng farm namin. (We are farmers are the ones who would develop our farm.)”, he said.

Top Tourism Spot in La Trinidad
The Strawberry Farm also brings tourism opportunities for the municipality of La Trinidad. Among other strawberry farms in the municipality, the BSU Strawberry Farm has the widest land area and production of strawberries.

“Tourists can see our products, like strawberry taho, from social media. With this they are magnetized to visit Benguet. (Yung mga tinitinda namin nakikita ng mga tao sa social media. Nahahatak nila mga turista dito sa Benguet.)”, says manong Bruce Castillo a taho vendor at the farm for more than ten years.

The Department of Tourism Cordillera Region have been listing the Strawberry Farms as one of the top most visited site in Benguet for many years. Further , it has been included as part of the Baguio City tour itinerary since the city’s tourism boom.

To visit or not to visit again?

Despite the benefits of being a tourist destination, there are few concerns from the vendors around the farm and the visitors.

“The Number one problem here is the lack of parking lots, but because this is the property of BSU their approval should be sought first”, explains manong Bruce. “Lack of trash bins is also a problem…”, he added, “…the trash of the tourists were scattered because they do not know where to throw so it affects the beauty of the place.”

A farmer suggested to pave the pathways along the strawberry farm. He added that tourists complains about the muddy passageways. “This has been, apparently, a plan way, way back but it’s not yet implemented”, he shared.

Lack in advertising is also a problem as observed by the residents. People from different places thought that the farm is located in Baguio City. Also, during strawberry festival, tourists were not as many as during Panagbenga or other famous festivals in the country.

Aside from strawberries, the farm also produces lettuce, broccoli, sweet peas, beans, some varieties of flowers that grows in Benguet. These are the products the tourists see and buy especially during the rainy season when strawberries are not available.

La Trinidad Strawberry Farm overtaken?

            Strawberries require a specific climatic condition to grow. However, other provinces like Davao and Bicol have strawberry farms now. Photos of these farms posted in the internet would show that they have wide strawberry farms with green houses. Davao plant the berries in a bamboo stalk to prevent the strawberries lay on the ground also to provide a walkway conducive for visitors exploring the farm. Bicol on the other hand, focused on the aesthetic aspects of their strawberry farm. They have photo booths and good signage and designs in their view deck and entrance.

            Dr. Feliciano also believes that BSU’s strawberry farm needs a lot of improvement but the University still needs to seek assistance for funds. “We requested to the accounting office for enough fund for the improvement of the farm. We need to improve it because it is the main tourist attraction of the province of Benguet particularly La Trinidad so by all means we need to develop it.”

            “I do not believe that other places can surpass our strawberry farm. If they’ll produce strawberries in the low land, it will be for temporary production since we can only provide the needed climatic condition by nature to grow strawberries. They cannot come up with the kind of quality we produce here in Benguet”, Feliciano added.

Plotting the plans of the farm

For the past few years the Benguet State University and its co-stakeholders are looking out on improving the state of the farm.

            Dr. Padua, had headed a group from BSU who wants to improve the farm for tourism purposes. According to him, they passed a draft to the BSU administration for the development plan with the help of a Canadian expert.

            The development plan includes producing new varieties of strawberries, installing more trash bins inside the farm for cleaner environment, and having a good source of water.  The farm is also in need of green-houses too to produce strawberries even in rainy seasons. CRs, information desk, uniform stalls, good view deck, wider parking lots and establishing a restaurant to improve the tourism is also part of the plan.

            “We had the draft but they didn’t give us a go signal to push the development plan”, Dr. Padua said.

            Dr. Feliciano also enumerated the things UBA wants to improve for the improvement of the farm. These are: sourcing out a good portable irrigation system, very good view deck, road system, drainage canals, comfortable comfort rooms, restaurant that will cater the needs of the tourist going to the farm, very good parking area, and green houses.

            “The plans will be implemented at soonest possible time. We are trying to source out financers because that requires a multi-million cost of project to develop”, Dr. Feliciano answered.

Season of Implementation to Come

            UBA and Padua’s team has the same views on what to improve in the farm. The plans were broadcasted during the BSU Kapihan 2013. But as observed, the farm now, two years since the plans were constructed, the aesthetic aspect of the place only got worst.

The La Trinidad Tourism Plan has already been approved since the first quarter of this year, although we understand that BSU have their own plans for the site. “Implementation lang ang hinihintay. (We are only waiting for implementation), says Valred Olsim, Municipal Tourism Officer.

There are four main projects which are included in the Tourism Plan in which BSU’s approval and intervention are paramount. These are, beautification of CR, building of view decks, good parking lots and landscaping of the farm/parking area.

The plan was created through the efforts of several stakeholders which compose the Tourism council of La Trinidad. The council includes representatives from Benguet State University, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Local Government Unit, Barangay councils, Non-Government Organizations and private sectors.  //Jessica Caranay & Gerbien Mansilla (BSU-DEVCOMM)

* I promised Jessica and Gerbien to publish their story in my blog as part of their final output in their academic requirements. I'd like to thank them for this good start as fellow DevComm practitioners. Good luck to all endeavors!

Friday, May 22, 2015

3 Better Finales for the ‘Forevermore' Soap

I get it.

The romantic comedy drama ‘Forevermore’ about young love, which had blossomed in the cold foggy mountains in Benguet, was a huge hit. For the average Filipino viewer, the show has all the elements of a feel good night treat – beautiful mestizo/mestiza cast,  picturesque setting, the underdog vs. powerful conflict, third parties, and a bit of comic relief (thanks mostly to Bangky and that cute kid). Undeniably, we can’t blame the women in the house and the neighborhood for usurping the television every night, to the men’s errr... ‘prejudice’.

With all the anticipation of a promised great ending, the drama finale, unfortunately, turned out to be no more than a corny, half-baked, and poorly written script to convince us that the “forevermore” title was justified in the end. “That’s it?” the young kid in our neighborhood mused. Yup, Xander shouts “may forever pala!” and automatically there is forever. Somehow, it felt forced.

The favorite hobby of most men when women watch soap operas is to pester them; give common predictions, criticize the characters’ sloppy lines, point out errors in the story line continuity – it is in this moments that men shine to momentarily become art and TV show critics, philosophers, and what have you, all to convince the women to switch the channel to the NBA highlights.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we watched most or some parts of it, and we can only imagine alternative endings that will save the story in our minds. Here are three better (or perhaps outrageous) finales (at least for the average guy) for the undoubtedly successful and engrossing show:

1.    Xander and Alex (Erich) got married and had babies, while Agnes went on to have a family of her own and successful career in Japan.

-          After 30 years or so, they will unexpectedly meet each other in La Presa (with older faces and talk about the places they’ve been…yup, that ‘maybe this time’ song haha). They won’t rekindle their romance, however, since they already have families of their own. But they do talk for the longest time, reminiscing the past (with flashback effects). Then, they part ways without glancing back and realize (maybe through narration) that what they “had” many years ago is pure love and will never fade ‘forevermore’.

2.    Xander and the La Presa people found out that the drained water-supply was caused by a certain politician who excavated a whole mountain, violence erupted and Xander died protecting Agnes.

-          I’m not a bit happy for how the writers seem to have defended an environmental rapist. The least that they could’ve done is to show the importance of watersheds in relation to the water supply. Maybe, connect them somehow to the soap villains as conspirators to the crime. The hoodlums of the politician drove them away with violence (just like the real news), and superman (Xander) is there for the rescue, sacrificing his life to protect Agnes. After 30 years, a married Agnes visits Xander’s grave admitting that her love for him will always be there. That, it is true love ‘forevermore’.

3.    Agnes lost her memory in an accident in the forest. From then, Xander spends forevermore loving, and reminding her that their love is forever.

-          Agnes who got lost in the forest (ironically) hit her head and wandered around without memory. She was later found by Xander and the La Presa people unconscious. The damage was done, she suffers from anterograde amnesia (like the 50 first date movie) waking up every day thinking that Xander betrayed her. Of course, Xander will spend forever convincing and showing Agnes that he really loves her ‘forevermore’.

Anyone who have read or watched a Nicholas Sparks’ work would understand what I am driving in to. Sometimes, tragedy can romanticize everything. Sometimes, loss and misery can make stories more realistic and beautiful.

However I also understand why most TV soaps would not dare to have any of these as their finale. Maybe it is not that the scriptwriters lack talent, but maybe they are only giving what the population want – a fairytale ending where the protagonists live happily ever after and villains go to jail.

For the common Filipino people, there is already too much drama, loss, and tragedy in their real lives, too much bad news in the media, too much stress and pressure in work, and to pile more to their psyche may bury them to depression. They need a happy convenient ending, regardless of how senseless it will be, because most of the time  they only turn the box for one thing --- to make them feel better.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Ibaloy Studies Conference: The Ibaloy today

(Our Tourism policy is more than numbers that help generate employment and pump the economy but also includes the preservation of culture and heritage. That is why I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend seminars and conferences that are related to our functions such as this recently held Ibaloy Studies Conference at UP Baguio on April 24-25).

“That’s a very difficult question.” Dr. Julie Camdas-Cabato, sighed not knowing that the inquisitive person in front of her is one of the many babies she ushered to this world via caesarian section.

Dr. Cabato’s story of the “vanishing Ibaloys of Baguio City” echoes the many fears of the Ibaloys in this age – the displacing of its people, the fading of its culture, and the losing of its identity. As many queries piled the hall, I was compelled to stand up and address the room’s white elephant after a UP professor’s “profound” and “extremely important” inquiry about the “color of the butato (fireflies)”.

“How do we, the multi-cultural children- the one-halves, and one fourths, address our identity? What is the implication of being a multi-cultural child in the Ibaloy’s advocacy of cultural preservation?” I nervously raised.

“That is indeed a very difficult question” The questions actually broke the room- each participant looking side and up, asking the ceiling the same thing.

There was no answer.

Earlier, messages were given asking the obvious question: “Who are the Ibaloys?” Benguet Gov. Fongwan, who admitted that he has no Ibaloy blood but can speak fluent Ibaloy, shared that he is considered by many as one of them simply because he lived as an Ibaloy, and speaks the Ibaloi Language. (“He looks and sounds like a chicken, therefore he must be a chicken”).

Does that mean that those who do not know how to speak Ibaloi, despite having Ibaloy parents, like most from the fifth and perhaps, sixth generation, are not considered Ibaloys?  Is being an Ibaloy by blood? Or by cultural orientation (as being able to speak Ibaloi)? Although I understood that Anthropological researchers use the language to sort human groups, I still felt unconvinced.

NCIP Commissioner Zenaida Hamada-Pawid (a one-half, one- fourth herself) answered my query in three parts. She started her story by recalling her experience as a young Anthropology professor of UP who is tracing her ancestry by collecting the genealogy of the five biggest clans of Benguet villages. What she and other researchers found out was that all of the people in the southern Cordillera can trace their roots to only one people – the Kalanguyas (Ikalahans), a distinct sub-group of the Ifugaos.

The Kalanguyas (from “Keley ngoy iya” a term used to pacify misunderstandings), in turn, are blood brothers of many different ethnic groups, not only from the Cordillera region, but also of the people of Region I and II. “Enshi nai-afafil” I smirked.

If we go deeper, we will find out that our different tribes in the Cordillera region belong to the same Austronesian Peoples in Southeast Asia and Oceania. This means that we belong to the same family with the Taiwanese aborigines; the majority ethnic groups of MalaysiaEast Timor, IndonesiaBruneiMadagascar, Micronesia, and Polynesia, as well as the Polynesian peoples of New Zealand and Hawaii, and the non-Papuan people of Melanesiathe minorities of Singapore where Malay is an indigenous language, the Pattani region of Thailand, and the Cham areas in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Hainan.

“What irks me is the different organizations, including that Bangsamoro, who insist that they are different (perhaps superior?) groups when they belong to the same group of people” She said strongly. “Even without discussing the cultural and social matrix however, we are one people because of our common activities – pasturing, agriculture, forestry and mining.” These activities, she explained are protected by the Indigenous Peoples themselves suggesting that said activities taught them to become very much protective of their land and resources.

“So how can the young Ibaloy today understand how is it to become an Ibaloy of the past?” She asked. “The Ibaloy is a culture and people in constant change….they are not frozen in time”

“But if you want to know the core value of the Ibaloys, go ask the Ibaloys who perished in the Battle of Tonglo at Lumtang (Lamtang). Our ancestors who spent 300 years of fighting to protect our ownership of our lands, properties, and resources.” She almost shouted. “The Ibaloys are strong and empowered!”

The room almost became somber. For some of the Ibaloys who are there, the obvious implication of her last lines hit them like a brick. “Have we protected our ownership of our land and resources?” They must have muttered. Perhaps, our ancestors must be rolling on their graves screaming that “the real Ibaloys are those who have protected the lands of their ancestors!”

My late Father, Alberto Ingosan Olsim Jr., descended from the Ingosan-Gabol Clan of Irisan, Baguio City who can trace their roots to Ahin (Buguias) and Kabayan, and the Olsim and Bacquian clan of Buguias, Benguet. He is a “Kanibal”(Kankana-ey – Ibaloy). He, however, grew up in Mt. Province because of his father’s choice to farm at nearby Bauko and Sabangan, Mt. Province.

It is a different case with my Mother, Marcelina Dulay Elwas, who is predominantly a “Bontokis” from Sabangan and, Samoki, Can-eo, and Gonogon, Bontoc, Mt. Province. She, however, grew up in an Ibaloy mining village at Itogon, Benguet where she lived and spoke like a true blue Ibaloy.

This (comically) means that I have an i-Benguet father who grew up in Mt. Province, and a Mt. Province mother who grew up in Benguet.

I was born in Baguio City, and raised in La Trinidad, Benguet. I lived in a multi-cultural neighborhood who uses the Cordillera region’s “neutral” language – the “Ilokano”, or perhaps our washed out version of it. Our parents did not use the Kankana-ey or Ibaloy language in our home, just like many parents today.

Growing up, however, I saw how the two tribes treat each other with contempt - the Ibaloys thinking that other groups have robbed them of their lands, and the other groups blaming the Ibaloys for selling hectares of it. In one record, my Ibaloy side,the Ingosan and Gabol, who are two of the major clans of Baguio City, sold their lots at Irisan to Manila developers. Such event at Irisan served as the microcosm of how Baguio City had turned out to be.

The attitude of Benguet versus Mt. Province, or the Ibaloys vs. the "Bontokis" is visible in schools, in the workplace,and even in news columns like Midland's Opposite Direction by Atty. Benny Carantes where he constantly viewed the "Bontokis" as carpet baggers, and his fellow Ibaloys as threats to other Ibaloys. 

Many writers blamed the division of the Ibaloys to the conscious machinations of powerful people in the past. The division of barangays to divide the Ibaloy clans (and subdue them), and the unfair politics of this date. Come to think of it, there has never been an Ibaloy mayor of Baguio City.

Such conflicting scenario, taught me to become indifferent with my cultural identity. "Why can't we just say that we are humans who breath the same air, and drink the same water?" I contemplated as a young kid. For a 90s kid immersed in the global pop culture, I never really cared...until today.


So, how do we, the part Ibaloys, address our identity, especially in the Ibaloy’s call for cultural preservation in this modern multi-cultural society? Does it mean that I have to marry an Ibaloy girl to ‘promote and continue the blood line’? Does it mean that we have to ban the entry of the “Bontokis” or other cultural groups?  How can I compromise the preservation of the different cultures that I belong too (which are equally wonderful)?

For us hybrids, we can only imagine in our silence.

In this multi-cultural generation in which the young Ibaloys have learned to love without the issue of tribe, language, or colors, they will barely understand the importance of their Ibaloy culture and identity, or feel what is it to become an Ibaloy.

They can only learn the cultural tools, perhaps, the constructs; the language, and the dances. They can only wear their names and their ethnic costumes. But beyond that, they have changed... just like this ever-changing world.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mt. Yangbew, La Trinidad

The last stop of the first "Valentines in the Valley" tour package is none other than the breath-taking little Mt. Pulag in the highly-urbanized town. Mt. Yangbew, or "Jambo"/"Jumbo" for others is a place for scout Jamborees during the American period (hence the name 'jambo'). During those times,however, the people in the community pronounced it as "yangbo" which sticked up to this date. 

Recently in a meeting, however,  the Brgy. Tawang officials with many old-timers and community leaders, finally agreed that it should be called "MT. YANGBEW", not Jumbo, not Jambo, not Yangbo, as voted upon majority of its elders and local historians. "Bew/Beo" came from the kankana-ey "Le-beew" or fog (Apparently, although the Ibaloys originally inhabited the valley plains, the mountain areas are mostly occupied by the kankanaeys). The name means "where fog/cloud resides", as opposed to the other suggestion of "Jambo" for Jamboree. 

Here are some pictures of the tour!

A view of the city lights

Goodnight campers!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

La Trinidad Tourism: "Where are we now, and where are we going"

The future is colorful for La Trinidad tourism J. After so many years, the municipality will finally adopt a tourism plan for 2015-2019 that will guide our legislators and implementers in making La Trinidad a distinct and exciting destination in the country (as an Agri-eco-cultural destination). Great credit goes to the DOT-CAR’s assistance, the participation of all the members of the Tourism Council from various sectors, and of course, the present administration’s relentless passion towards tourism investment and development.

What made us more proud, as one of those who participated in the tourism planning months ago, is the adoption of our group’s brand slogan which features our tourism brand essence for La Trinidad: “Valley of Colors” The slogan, initially drawn from our distinct tourism products of strawberries, cut flowers, coffee, and vegetables, finally serves as both inspiration, and challenge, not just to the town’s officials, but also to every soul in our community – how can we sustain such claim? How can we really make a “colorful” La Trinidad for our tourists? Can our town keep up with such kind of tourism promotion and marketing? Are our existing  infrastructures and accommodations ready for it?

If these thoughts cross you, then that is cheerfully the first step towards cultivating a tourism conscious community. Tourism consciousness is a culture treasured by communities who see tourism as a valuable opportunity for economic growth. Palawan and Sagada, for instance, have this culture; residents regulate themselves and maintain cleanliness and orderliness because they have a decent and holistic view of the tourism systems. “If I throw my waste here, our tourist spot will become dirty and no tourist will come anymore…it means my parents won’t have customers and they won’t be able to pay taxes that our government will use for projects that will help us” a 7 year old-child in Sagada answered when I inquired about their regular cleaning-activities.

For many urbanizing towns, this consciousness may slowly expire: “We don’t have to invest on tourism since we have schools, banks, and other establishments that can sustain our local economy” said a friend in one unforgiving debate, “trumapik lang ti turista”. Although he has a point, such naive outlook is not only backward, but also conceited – it only proves that we lack a tourism conscious culture. Tourism, the activity of travelling and staying in a certain place, is not only an economic phenomenon but also a social and cultural one. It involves most part of communities’ lives – can we imagine our place without a single visitor? What lasting impression do we want our tourists or visitors to have upon their visit to our town? What “experiences” do we want them to have from our place?

For a long time, La Trinidad, although it had successfully penetrated the market of tourism products, has yet to substantially invest in projects that will improve its destination-based tourism aspect. “It’s all in the pipe…the tourism plan is the start...” our Mayor Tabanda assured me. I sincerely believe her.

Partnerships, unity and cooperation are the keys. We need a united and collective consciousness that puts the community first before any other interests. Nothing can go wrong when everyone dreams the same thing, when we all want to go in the same direction…when we all want to be living in a Valley of colors - alive with peaceful and loving diversity, thriving in vibrant cultures, and imbued with dynamism and environmental consciousness.

Others, perhaps, are initiative and volunteerism. In most developed countries, most events-based tourism (and even destination-based) are initiated and developed by the private sector( like Macy’s parade of New York by the privately owned store-chain). Or even as practiced locally, the private sector (like the academe, business people etc.) support for the tourism industry of Baguio City; UC, for instance, donated millions-worth Burnham master plan as a gift to the city and the people of Baguio, and SLU initiates the city’s Lantern Parade, something that boosts the city tourism’s year of events, business people organized themselves (like the HRAB) for better tourism services. Even in my visits to other provinces with successful tourism values, it is the private sector which develops (even donates) parks and attractions for the community's and tourists' enjoyable experience.

In La Trinidad? Hmmmm. We have a lot of work to do. Perhaps all sectors must finally set aside pretexts in community development (including its tourism aspect), to really propel our town to better heights. As i-La Trinidad people who have stake in our own town’s tourism industry, the ball is now in our hands in a dying second to make a goal. With everyone's support, I really believe that we can score on this one. J

(The Tourism Plan Presentation will be posted soon. Happy New Year to all :)

In my past work, I have learned to become abreast with the legislative developments of our town just in case I ever need to be professionally prepared. Hence, I have known of the 2011 Municipal Tourism Officer Ordinance years ago even before its posting last year. In preparation for it, I have been acquiring significant trainings and eligibilities which include Diploma in Tourism Studies, and NC-II Tour Guiding Services, among others, although the ordinance specifically includes Bachelor of Laws, and Communication courses among the qualifying degrees (which is already in my line).

Contrary to some opinions, my decision came, not from a spur of a moment, but of months and nights of mental anguish in decision-making. What are the chances? What if the appointing power did not like me? What if the hiring was postponed? What if I have taken the job opportunity abroad? Sometimes, ‘fate’ or destiny (and even accident) is a combination of many things; preparation,insane luck,perfect timing, choice, and guts. Hopefully, this new year, our proposals, planning, and actions will assist our tourism status to greater grounds. (Scary..Wish us luck nyayy!!J)