The Municipality of Sagada has been considered as the most popular tourist destination outside of Baguio City in the Cordillera Administrative Region. Its cool climate, rock formations, limestone caves, panoramic landscapes, waterfalls, hanging coffins, and other natural and cultural attractions are so alluring to tourists which make many of them to keep coming back. Unlike in the past decades where the increase in tourist arrivals were gradual and predictable, the past three years saw a drastic increase primarily due to improvement of road infrastructures under the DPWH-DOT Convergence Program, aggressive promotion of the Department of Tourism, and the featuring of Sagada in television shows and movies particularly the blockbuster hit “That Thing Called Tadhana” and “A Walk in the Clouds”.
Apparently, the local tourism industry is fast becoming the primary source of income for the local population. Business establishments like accommodation enterprises, cafes and restaurants, and souvenir shops are rapidly increasing in number and so with the tour guides, shuttle drivers and operators, and other tourism service providers. Village-based livelihood entrepreneurs and farmers also find a niche market for their products like processed foods, muscovado sugar, coffee, fruits, vegetables and assortment of woven products right in their own backyard. On the part of the local government, it was able to generate more than five million pesos from environmental fees in 2016 alone.
The economic gains being enjoyed by the locals were not limited to them but rather extended to tourism-based enterprises located outside the municipality. Based on LGU data, around 147 legitimate tour agencies or those with mayor’s permit, bring in around 70% of the 156,973 registered tourists to Sagada in 2016. This figure gives a conservative gross receipts of Php219,762,200.00 to the agencies based on the lowest tour rates they offer to tourists as appearing in their respective websites and Facebook accounts in the internet.
The tourism potentials of Sagada is further enhanced by the increasing number of agencies and groups coming in for the purpose of team building, seminars, conferences, and meetings. This prompted some inns to develop a portion of the structure to conference halls and function rooms. The largest conference held in Sagada for the year was the 15th Philippine Speleological Society National Cave Congress held on April 11-15, 2016 and attended by about 600 delegates from the different provinces in the country.
The tourism boom, though it brings huge economic benefits not seen in the locality for years, brings along major problems like monstrous traffic especially during long weekends, solid waste, congestion of tourist sites cum sacred places, and tremendous pressure to water and land resources. The LGU and other local stakeholders were caught off-guard of the trending scenario prompting the former to implement strong measures to ease the problems. Basing on the number of tourist arrivals, bedding capacity of all accommodation enterprises, and availability of water and other facilities, the LGU set the carrying capacity of Sagada at 3,500 tourists per day. The allowable volume of tourists and guides at any given time inside the Lumiang-Sumaguing Cave Connection was also set at 300 so as to avoid overcrowding and adverse impact to the cave’s ecosystem. This was actually the rationale behind the joint undertaking of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the LGU to formulate the Sumaguing Cave Development and Management Plan. The SCDMP was already completed but its implementation has yet to start.
A change in LGU administration brought about by the results of the May 14, 2016 elections saw a sweeping reforms in the implementation of traffic laws. Parking along the national road from Nangonogan to Ambasing was finally disallowed in accordance to existing ordinances. All violators, whether local residents, tourists or dignitaries alike were apprehended and issued citation tickets with the corresponding fines. The Municipal Tourism Council was also formalized to tackle the emerging problems and formulate program directions and guidelines to better manage the industry. The Solid Waste Management Council was also reorganized and a staff was designated as Municipal Solid Waste Management Action Officer. The Municipal Tourism Office was finally provided with permanent Municipal Tourism Officer with personnel with the mandate to assist with long-term program planning and development by identifying the requirements of the local tourism industry, make recommendations in meeting the needs of the industry, and implement local tourism plans and programs.
The positive outlook on the inclusive growth that the tourism brings in the municipality captured the interest of other government agencies to implement supplemental programs and activities intended for better handling or management of the industry. The Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board – Cordillera Administrative Region (RTWPB-CAR) conducted a series of training for frontline service providers on Service Quality Program for the Tourism Value Chain on November 23-24, 2016. Around 60 tour guides and 30 innkeepers participated in the training. For its part, the DOT conducted a 5-day comprehensive training on housekeeping to 40 innkeepers and homestay owners, issued accreditation to 16 inns which passed the rigid standard of selection, invited tour guides and other frontliners to seminars and conferences intended to uplift service standards, and promoted Sagada in national and international tourism fairs.
The year 2016 saw another leap in tourist arrivals with a total of 156,973 registering at the MTIC. Using the 2013 data as a baseline, tourist arrivals increased by 77% in 2014, and then more than doubled to 114% in 2015 before going down to 13% in 2016. The peak months start from December to May while the leanest months are August, September and October. November is considered the kick off month for the peak season while June and July are the simmering months or the time when the trend line starts to go down (Table 1).
Table 1. Tourist Arrivals Per Month & Year. Sagada, Mountain Province. 2016.
As per DOT definition, a person staying overnight in a certain place is already considered a tourist. However, the Municipal Tourism Office has no capacity to monitor or record the thousands of family visitors whose main purpose in coming are to attend weddings, class reunions, vigils, etc. The number of tourist arrivals as indicated above is limited to visitors who paid the Php35.00 environmental fee at the MTIC.
Average Length of Stay
Out of the 156,286 tourist arrivals, around 131,465 or 84.12% stay overnight or more at any accommodation enterprise while the remaining number of 21,840 or 15.88% represent the day visitors. The average length of stay is 1.5 days per tourist based on data provided by the inns and homestays. Results of an in-depth study in 2015 on the average expenditures of tourists while in Sagada show that each tourist who stayed overnight spends around Php1,065 per day inclusive of accommodation, meals/snacks, tour guide fees, souvenirs and entrance fees while a day tourist spends around Php495.00. Transportation expenses for both types of tourists were not included. Based on the expenditures (limited to the aforementioned expenses) and the average length of stay of tourists, it is inoffensive to project that gross receipts for the local tourism industry reached Php223 Million in 2016.