YES, the tourists came in droves.
Six Hundred Eighty Thousand—that, the provincial government says, is the number of tourists who flocked to Ilocos Norte during the Holy Week.
Many think the figure is bloated, and I am trying to understand why. That number, plus the province’s population of around 600,000 combines to 1.28-M. With the country’s population at 92-M, that means 1 of every 77 Filipinos were in Ilocos Norte during the week. It is simply unimaginable, some say, although ‘unimaginable’ could be something positive. Even with a most generous margin of error of, say, 20 percent, the figure is still huge. Boracay, for instance, only usually has around 800,000 tourist arrivals for an entire year, and we know the figure is credible because there is a proper headcount at the Caticlan Port en route to the famous beach.
Personally, I think the method by which they arrived at the statistic is rough at best. Capitol tourist staff counted occupancies in hotels, lodges, and home stays, and, in addition, also data from traffic and tourist centers. The duplication in headcount was thus very possible.
But don’t get me wrong, dear karikna, I honestly believe, and know for sure, that there was indeed a dramatic rise in tourist arrivals here, and I am happy with this development. Living near La Elliana Hotel, La Preciosa Restaurant, and other tourism-related establishments gives me a layman’s feel of how things are going on for tourism.
“Major restaurants and small time carinderias noted the dramatic increase of tourists this year. Customers who wanted to taste Ilocano cuisine like bagnet, longanisa, empanada and miki had to line up in queues for them to get served,” says a Capitol press release which also reported that “All hotels and transient homes with a capacity of 2,600 rooms were booked and spillover went to private houses to homestay and others set up tents around the major destinations.” It cited Texicano Hotel which has only 50 rooms but received 468 guests during the week.
Sounds sweet, though this is both an accomplishment and a wake-up call. Officials admit that tourists had to wait for at least two hours to get a decent meal, half a day to get billeted. You know how stressful that could be for people who just want to have fun. Good thing there were very few, really few, foreign tourists.
The Capitol admits it did not expect that volume of tourists and that it was overwhelmed. On hindsight, we really attracted more than what we could really properly accommodate. They came, but we were not ready with their magnitude. I sincerely hope ‘word of mouth’ (which is a very potent form of advertisement) about our lack of facilities will not jeopardize our chances of attracting more tourists.
Still, I am sure many visitors also felt our eagerness to really give them a great experience here. Helpful tourist kiosks were set up, free tours were organized, and peace and order was well maintained. Governor Imee Marcos was the usual hands-on leader during the long vacation. And the staff of the Capitol’s tourism and media offices, respectively headed by the dynamic duo of Ianree Raquel and Jun Gudoy, all worked under stress round the clock during the week when all the rest of us were on vacation. I am sure they didn’t mind though. For one, the influx of tourists serves as a vindication for what they have been working very hard for.
One factor that contributed to the upsurge of arrivals is the provincial government’s tourism campaign ‘PaoayKumakaway!,’ which, at first, I was silently skeptical with. I thought that it was confusing having to associate the whole province to just one town. And Ialso thought the ‘bigote’ confuses people even more as very few realize that it is Juan Luna’s. I have been tempted to write against it but I restrained myself, and I am happy I did for this is one occasion your karikna is happy to be proven wrong.
It delivered, so it must be good. PaoayKumakaway reached out to millions through TV commercials and through billboards showcasing Ilocos Norte’s finest tourist destinations along the major thoroughfares of Metro Manila, train routes, and airport terminals. The campaign featured the wonderful attractions of our province—our magnificent churches, rock formations, historical structures, sand, beaches, and other beauties.
I mainly stayed at home during the Holy Week, not wanting to compete for space and resources with tourists, and while doing my usual web surfing, I was delighted to see “Pagudpud” as the number 5 trending topic in Yahoo! Philippines. This is really something.
But trending for what? Pagudpud is a gift we have not really worked on enough. Though the wonderful coastal town has been in the national consciousness for decades for having one of the finest beaches in Asia, it remains a disappointment in terms of services and facilities.
And there are very few establishments which offer good food in Pagudpud. Even Saud Beach Resort and Hotel (touted as one the best there), where I brought a close friend from abroad on an off-peak season, is disappointing in terms of services. For instance, my friend specifically requested that the bacon in her BLT Sandwich be made crispy. When it came, the bacon was as soggy as a pre-Viagra centenarian’s you-know-what. It was the same story when I told the waiter how I wanted to have my eggs done. And, yes, though we stayed in their most expensive suite, there was a nasty cat in the attic that deprived us of a good rest. Oh, did I say the place is owned by the town mayor?
Why is Pagudpud still behind its counterparts like Boracay, Puerto Galera, or El Nido? A major reason is that their local leaders lack vision and foresight, for if they did, tourist activity could be more bullish in the town, and there would have been less disappointed visitors.
The upsurge of tourist arrivals in Palawan was far more dramatic on account of the Underground River being hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of Nature, but they were ready, and were quick to augment their facilities. Construction activities, left and right, are being done there even as I write this.
What to do with Pagudpud?
All said, dear karikna, fact remains that things are looking up for tourism in Ilocos Norte, and here’s wishing we sustain it.