February 5, 2012

Tourism Booming In Ifugao

By ELLSON A. QUISMORIO from Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation except image
February 4, 2012, 8:06pm

     BATAD, Banaue, Philippines – Tourists here in Ifugao province agree: It’s more fun in the Philippines.
     So big a splash has the local tourism industry made that it’s now a bigger industry in Ifugao than agriculture, at least during the last five years, according to Department of Tourism-Cordillera Administrative Region (DOT-CAR) Regional Director Purificacion Suanding Molintas.
     “This is Ifugao, the main industry is tourism. Agriculture is only secondary,” said Molintas.
     Molintas bared that in the past, a whopping 90 percent of all the tourism-related revenue generated by CAR was centered on Baguio.

     “There has been a substantial change over the last few years. Now, only 70 percent of the revenue is attributed to Baguio, with the rest of the Cordilleras, including Ifugao, making up the remaining 30 percent.”
     The DOT official said the third most visited area in the Cordilleras is Ifugao, with the tourists consisting mostly of Europeans. “If you look at the national statistics of the DOT, the most visited destination in Luzon, by the Europeans, is Ifugao,”
     Molintas disclosed that the average annual tourist arrival in Banaue alone is 85,000, which results in revenues worth P212,500,000.
     “At 85,000 visitors per annum that come to Banaue, multiplied by P2,500 which is the average expenditure per individual, that’s P212,500,000 in revenue that tourism contributes to the local economy,” she explained.

Main attraction
     Marietta Hangdang, provincial tourism officer, said that total tourist arrivals reached 103,000 in 2010, and unofficial figures showed that it will again surpass the 100,000-mark in 2011.
     “It’s (number of tourists) increasing every year by an average of eight percent. That’s what generates our income here in Ifugao,” she said.
     The Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras – romantically described by locals here as “stairways almost reaching the blue (sky)” – are hands-down the main attraction. The segment of rice paddies in Batad town, which has been sculpted from the earth in the likeness of an amphitheater, is easily the most photographed portion of the terraces.
     “It’s the most beautiful (segment). It’s actually compact and easily reached. It’s just one of the five world heritage sites in the whole of the Cordilleras,” noted Molintas.
     The Rice Terraces, built by ancestors of the natives here, is believed to be over 2,000 years old.

Tourism benefits not felt by farmers
     As big an industry tourism may be, local farmers – the same people who plant rice and vegetables on the terraces, therefore sustaining the beauty of the landscape – are hardly enjoying its benefits.
     “The benefits of tourism do not reach the farmers,” said Mon Corpuz of the Black Pencil Project. “The ones that directly benefit are the hotel owners, souvenir makers, and others involved in the hospitality business.”
     A quick glance around town shows limited access to electricity; narrow, unpaved roads (although there are scattered, ongoing road works), and overall simple if not frugal living.
     Corpuz, an eight-time visitor of Banaue, observed a trait of local residents that, once changed, could help uplift the quality of life there.
     “The locals tend to treat tourists as nothing more. Just tourists. Their interaction ends once the tourist leaves. But since they’ve come to know me through our outreach programs here, I am no longer a tourist in their eyes; I am their friend. They ask me, ‘When will you come back?’” Corpuz shared.

     Last Friday, around 200 volunteers, mostly civilians, gathered in this village to help restore the 40 or so steps of the terraces that had been badly damaged by tropical storm “Pedring” last year.
     The volunteers had been christened the “Batad Weekend Warriors” by the project’s initiator, John Chua. The underlying theme of the restoration effort is to revive the concept of ‘Bachang’, which means “Bayanihan” in the Ifugao dialect.
     The concept is three-fold: reviving the Ifugao bayanihan spirit, saving the Rice Terraces, and promoting volunteerism through the tourism industry, hence the term “voluntourism”.
     “This project is for the people who work hard from Monday to Friday, and then asks themselves, ‘How can I make a difference?’” Chua said.
     The restoration of the damaged part of the amphitheater is expected to continue every weekend until the end of the year, even as Chua promised to set up a committee in Batad that would guide both local and foreign tourists-volunteers.
     “The committee will be there to guide volunteers who are willing to help, but may not want to take part in fixing the damaged steps. If they want to teach the children how to draw, then we’ll bring them to the schools,” he said.
     “Without this template, volunteers may be discouraged.”

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