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Banaue rice terraces: Spectacular sight, disappointing attitude


First Person
Down on Domestic Tourism

By Jesselynn G. de la Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:56:00 05/18/2008

Filed Under: Tourism & Leisure

MANILA, Philippines - All those funds and efforts to push domestic tourism gone to waste, I remember thinking, and all that ?Byahe Na!? promotions on multi-media and videoke falling flat―with one curt remark spat out: ?Ay naku, kung gusto ninyong magbakasyon, kailangan handa kayong gumastos!? (You want a vacation, then be ready to spend for it!)

It wouldn?t have stung so much if the lady―and I?m stretching the term here―had not been the officer of the day assigned at the Tourist Information Center in Poblacion Banaue, Ifugao. Well, she did have an eager plastered smile when we walked in to ask how we could make the most of a 24-hour side trip to the rice terraces. All first-timers in Banaue, we thought she really might want to be of help. But her eagerness, it later became apparent, was only for the chance to broker the rental of a tricycle (P500 for a trip to a view site 30 minutes away), a jeepney (P800+), or an air-conditioned van (P1,800+), or the sale of a map.

We bought the map. But when it became clear to her there was to be no deal on a vehicle hire as we really fancied the idea of getting around the way the locals do on a regular commute (tricycles and jeepneys waiting at the terminals and packing their passengers literally all the way up the roof), she turned her back on us in a huff, blurting out those nasty words.

As we left to find our own way to the jeepney terminal, we passed a couple of Caucasian backpackers. I turned to check, and sure enough, Ms. Tourism Center?s eager flashing smile was plastered back on.

We didn?t want to let that encounter dampen our spirit that was ready to be "wowed" by the sight of the Ifugao mountains, but as the day wore on, we realized, sadly, that more than just the rice terraces, what needs to be restored, at least in the town center, is the simplicity, sincerity and natural warmth of the people.

We can understand how the influx of both local and foreign tourists has also exposed the townsfolk to consumerist values. Still it was rather a shock to be confronted with such crass materialism that seemed to taint every interaction with local residents.

Nothing?s for free, not even directions―that seemed to be the message. Unless one is willing to hire a vehicle, at five times the actual fare at least, or pay for the services of a guide (P500) while trekking, one can?t get anywhere. No tricycle will take the out-of-towner anywhere outside of the poblacion, we were actually told, because there are ?fixed rates for tourists.? So even if you?re on a regular tricycle route and an empty one happens to be cruising by, you?d still have to pay the ?tourist rate.?

But if that isn?t bad enough, kibitzers materialize from nowhere as you try to haggle for a more reasonable rate, unnerving you with comments like ?It?s dangerous to go trekking without a guide? or ?Even if you?re able to catch a jeepney going out, there?s no ride coming back and you don?t want to spend the night out there.? And these they say, not kindly but menacingly, leaving one with hardly any doubt where the danger could possibly come from.

And then again, like Ms. Tourist Center OIC, they?d drop you the instant a legitimate ?foreign visitor? comes along―one perhaps who doesn?t speak the dialect and so won?t bother to haggle on rates. So you?re left feeling both relieved that they?re off your case, and resentful that you?ve been weighed in the balance of tourism revenues and realize that the prospect of your pesos and centavos doesn?t quite do it for them the way the promise of dollars and Euros does.

Tourism Secretary Joseph Durano is reported to have noted that on the average, a local tourist spends only one-tenth what a foreign visitor does. I do not know in what context he has mentioned this, but one can only hope it is not with the implication that the foreign tourist is to be preferred to the Filipino.

Competitive rates on air and sea travel, as well as improved national road networks have spurred the growth in domestic tourism, with the industry looking at a figure of eight to 10 million local tourists a year. And we?re looking at people who could make return visits to the places where they?ve experienced that irresistible blend of being a visitor at the receiving end of genuine Filipino hospitality, and being right at home in the midst of family and friends.

Happily, one finds this in many of our other tourist destinations―Baguio, Puerto Galera and Guimaras, for instance. So we?re not about to give up on local travels and tours yet. At least, not while summer?s not over yet.

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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