SINAGAD ANG SAGADA: SAGADA IN THE HANDS OF TOUR OPERATORS

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I think we all have seen at least once how around 13 or more tourists come out of a van one by one and in disbelief, we all might have wondered how they all got cramped inside the van for many hours, like a can of sardines as they say. Anyway, recently a thread in a group of van/tour operators discussing the required P2,000 for the permit for these tour operators to conduct business in Sagada has surfaced. And along came a barrage of negative comments about Sagada. Here are some of their comments and my two cents…

1. 2,000 PESOS PER YEAR (REGARDLESS OF HOW MANY VANS THEY BRING) IS EXPENSIVE

Even if a tour operator has only one van, this P2,000 I believe is TOO CHEAP. And I also believe this one van could travel to Sagada more than once in a year. Good thing it is not 2,000 pesos per van. Come to think of it, would that amount be enough to compensate the negative impacts this influx of tourists and hit and run or bullet tours bring? I think that P2,000 is already dirt cheap as other places like in Batangas, they charge P5,000 for the permit. Dios Mio. It is almost a giveaway. That seemingly miserly mindset only goes to show that they do not care about Sagada. They do not see its value at all and nothing else seems to matter to them as long as they profit from Sagada.

2. WHY IS THERE A NEED TO GET A MAYOR’S PERMIT WHEN THE TOURISTS WE BRING PAY THE ENVIRONMENTAL FEE?

We are all aware of the necessity of securing a Mayor’s Permit, we also know the difference between that and the environmental fee, but they don’t. My two cents on this, can we hold seminars for these tour operators and make it a requirement before they can secure a permit? Just like when you get a Certificate of Registration from BIR, some RDO’s (Revenue District Office) would require you to attend a seminar first, like a crash course on taxation, how much and what you are paying this for? Because they do not seem to know what the fees are for. The seminar could also be an avenue for us to educate these tour operators with other things such as waste management, rules for both the operators and the guests etc.

3. NO TO SAGADA. LET’S STOP BRINGING TOURISTS TO SAGADA.

While this may sound threatening, we have to bear in mind that this is what happens when outside tour agencies or tour operators think that have finally taken control of tourism in Sagada. So, should we feel threatened at all? I DON’T THINK SO. But the question is, can Sagada’s tourism thrive independently from these tour operators? Maybe we should also ask ourselves the following questions, how deep have they already rooted themselves into the economics of this town? With this kind of mindset that they display, I wouldn’t be surprised if they will just drop Sagada flat-out when they have milked it to the last drop, worn out of its charm and use, they will just look for another place to replace her. And who’s left to bear the brunt of all these?No one else, not the tourists, not the tour operators, but the locals themselves and most especially the children and the next generations of iSagada.

4. THEY SHOULD BE THANKFUL TO US (TOUR OPERATORS) INSTEAD SINCE WE BRING THEM TOURISTS. SAGADA OWES THEIR TOURISM INDUSTRY TO US.

Is this acceptable? Should we really bow down to them and be at their mercy? While yes, it has increased the income of Sagada, but let us remember that these tour agencies still get the bigger slice of the pie according to that St. Scholastica’s study/documentary “Sagad na ang Sagada”. Basically, only 27% of the income goes to the community. Are we really ingrates, when in fact we allowed them to bring in tourists despite the lack of consideration to Sagada’s carrying capacity?

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Roads are carved, paved or widened to accommodate their vans at the expense of the community. Even the Mission Compound,  a sanctuary in the center of poblacion is in grave danger as a DIVERSION ROAD will cut through it, like a spear into Sagada’s heart.

We have to admit that Sagada has become cheap, so cheap that we attract people who cannot even spend P2,000 for the whole year regardless of how many vans they bring. I have heard that inns have resorted to slashing their price to stay competitive in the market because tour operators would surely opt for the lowest price. I think this has also been a problem for quite a while.

I think these tour operators might be unaware of how they have somehow dismantled tourism and various aspects of life in Sagada. I am not even sure if they see Sagada, primarily as a community, a residence for the locals other than just a tourist destination. Roads are carved, paved or widened to accommodate their vans at the expense of the community. Even the Mission Compound,  a sanctuary in the center of poblacion is in grave danger as a DIVERSION ROAD has been proposed that will cut through it, like a spear into Sagada’s heart.

Their hit and run or bullet tours, the day tours, which have reduced Sagada into a one-day or overnight destination, have affected the community in so many ways. It has brought in mass tourism that sees the carrying capacity of this town the least of their concerns.

I think we locals should also know some of the negative effects of mass tourism. Here they are…

a. The bulk of the money from tourism does not go to the locals or the local community. Remember the documentary “Sagad Na ang Sagada”…

b. Environmental degradation and trash accumulation

c. Traffic jams and overcrowding

d. Locals have to compete against tourists over resources like water

Moreover, I believe that current mindset of tour operators and even the tourists who think that Sagada should be cheap could also be a reflection of how we also value this town. If we think nothing more than the profit tourism brings, bereft of consideration of many things that can affect the socio-cultural and environmental aspects of Sagada, we are no less different from these tour operators who think Sagada’s value is cheap and that nothing matters as long as they profit from her.

Yes, their comments and how they view Sagada is way beyond infuriating, BUT as they say, IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO. The challenge I think is how to manage these tour operators, most especially how to keep them from further getting full control of tourism and economics of Sagada. As I have pointed out above, this seminar can be made a requirement when getting a permit. Specific schedules can be set which can be distributed several times a year like 2 or three times a year to accommodate them in groups or batches.

Amidst the dearth of master plans, I think it is also high time for Sagada to review its tourism industry and create a tourism plan. Other than putting emphasis on sustainable tourism, we might as well look into high-value and low impact tourism models. Because having a high value does not mean it would scare tourists to come to our place. In fact, it would keep tourism sustainable as it will prevent a destination from degrading and suffering from boom and bust, the latter a sudden rose to fame and increase in income and suddenly all gone, kaput, because of lack of sustainability.

Sagada has been thriving as a tourist destination long before it became a gold rush hot spot for outside tour operators. If this is how it was before, it only goes to show that Sagada can stand on its own without being at the beck and call of these tour operators who think of themselves as kings and harbingers of progress in Sagada. But the question left for us to answer is, can Sagada wean itself from the tour operators and thrive independently? Or at the least, can Sagada not rely heavily on them?

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Paradise Lost

“Awake, arise or be for ever fall’n.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost

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ICOMOS Philippines in Partnership with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) held a conference on Redefining Cultural Tourism in the Philippines: Our Stories and Best Practices from the Regions
At the conference on cultural heritage and sustainable tourism on Saturday (conducted by ICOMOS Philippines in partnership with NCCA and DOT), while Sagada was busy cashing in on the hit and run tours and being plagued by mass tourism over the weekend, I felt like crying and vomiting at the same time when I have learned and how undeniable it has become, that Sagada is now one of the models of tourism gone bad. Yes, TOURISM GONE BAD. In the past, Sagada was hailed to be the next Boracay of the north as a top tourist destination, indeed, Sagada seems to be living up to it for it is now on the brink of meeting the demise Boracay is suffering from these days.

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Tracey Santiago of ICOMOS Philippines and NCCA together with Mapee Singson gave a talk and presentation entitled, Saving Sagada: Realities and Recommendations

I posted a part of that comment above in one thread and I was asked if solutions were raised. Yes, they were raised and for those who are active online, we are all aware that these have been repeated and raised perpetually especially in Save Sagada. So it leads me to think the most people are aware that Sagada has not yet identified its carrying capacity.

I think the problem is we keep on building and building without even saking ourselves if this could worsen mass tourism. The to-each-his-own mindset is even fueled by the need to fill in those rooms to get back what has been spent , and with such need the tour operators see the opportunity to abuse such need by promising to bring hordes of tourists but at a lower price. But one problem with this is that, tour agencies would rather make the stay of their guests as short as possible as they have other places to go to, making tourism become unsustainable. Anyway, It has always been said in discussions and assemblies, 1. identify the carrying capacity 2. create a tourism and development plan 3. impose the National Building Code and zoning policies 4. respect and preserve heritage and culture (e.g. cultural and heritage mapping and cultural tourism) 5. bring back the people’s sense of pride and ownership of this place.

 

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The speakers during the open forum. Seated left to right: Chen Mencias- Reyes, Tracey Santiago, Kara Garilao, and Mapee Singson.

Success stories have been shared, take the case of Angeles, Pampanga. The people have been all aware that they were only known for sex tourism. But they acknowledged the problem and together with their LGU that also places much value on heritage and culture, started to work together to change that. They went back to their roots, culture, and heritage. And within three years since the new tourism officer took charge, they have been garnering awards and now they are even vying to be a part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities in the field of gastronomy.

My hopes for Sagada will always be high, I do not think we are already past the tipping point. Or maybe I am still in denial, as much as those who are in denial believing that nothing is wrong with Sagada. I believe that people could see the changes and not only see but also experience the impacts once perceived in the past but are now unfolding and too glaring to disregard. It is time to accept the challenge of rebuilding and revitalizing Sagada, not to bring back exactly the past but for it to co-exist with growth harmoniously as its nature, culture, values, and heritage continue to flourish.

It is just frustrating and heartbreaking to know how Sagada is now widely talked about NOT ONLY AS A BEAUTIFUL DESTINATION BUT A PARADISE DECAYING because it couldn’t take hold of the beast that is tourism. And why it hurts so much is because Sagada is primarily a community, a home to its people with rich culture and heritage, and not just a tourist destination, not just a place for business, and mass tourism is killing the place, the home of the people of Sagada, its heart and soul, and the goose that lays the golden eggs.