BAGUIO CITY – BLISTT mayors discussed Baguio City’s strategy for its re-opening to tourists from Region 1. The mayors of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay called for the BLISTT council meeting on October 1 to clarify the role of the surrounding local government units and the implications of the City’s re-opening on their respective municipalities.

Baguio City Mayor and BLISTT Council Chairman Benjamin Magalong clarified that the City is only opening for tourists from Region 1 and restricting them to guided tour packages. The Council Chairman said re-opening the City hopes to gradually revive the City’s economy but strict health protocols shall continue to be observed and implemented to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Mayor Magalong said that the Cordillera Region has suffered a significant economic blow due to the drop in tourism during this pandemic. He shared that in his talks with the Department of Tourism, Baguio City will be one of a few pilot areas in the country to test out the new normal plans for controlled tourism. Mayors Armando Lauro of Tublay, Manuel Munar of Sablan, and Victorio Palangdan of Itogon were amenable to the controls set by Mayor Magalong and expressed their interest in participating later in gradually re-opening the BLISTT to tourism. Given its role as the primary gateway to Baguio City, the local government of Tuba requested additional manpower from the Baguio City Police to help in managing checkpoints along Marcos Highway and Kennon Road. Mayor Palangdan likewise announced that tourists wanting to go to Itogon’s established tourist spots must go through Baguio City’s screening and triage process. Otherwise, Itogon will not be accepting visitors. As part of the planned tours, Tuba has allowed for the inclusion of the BenCab Museum but maintained that the Asin Hot Springs area is not yet ready for tourists.

Mayor Lauro of Tublay expressed that eventually tourists should be allowed to tour the rest of the BLISTT area. This shifted the discussion to the development of BLISTT tourism circuits studied in 2017. These planned circuits cater to various tourist niches in agriculture, ecology, hiking, and food, among others. NEDA-CAR Regional Director and head of the BLISTT Secretariat, Milagros Rimando shared that the BLISTT development strategy workshop to consider the effects of the pandemic and other recent developments will resume in the coming weeks. This workshop will focus on development and recovery strategies for the BLISTT, tackle plans for guided tours around BLISTT focusing on the tourism circuits, and prepare an accompanying BLISTT tourism brochure. This long-term planning is part of the pre-Covid BLISTT initiative to decongest Baguio City and fast track the development of the surrounding municipalities. Tourism is seen as a key strategy in restarting the economy after the widespread effects of the pandemic.

Rimando proposed a BLISTT Tourism Council to better coordinate inter-local tourism efforts in the area, to initially address the re-opening of Baguio City for tourists and later to improve the tourism strategies of the entire BLISTT. Mayor Magalong agreed to the proposal and called for the Baguio Tourism Council to initiate the formation of the group and serve as the interim head. DOT-CAR and NEDA-CAR shall serve as secretariat.