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Pangasinan is ranked second in the Philippines for best tourism practices.

The Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) and the Department of Tourism have given the municipality here second place in the annual Pearl Awards for its outstanding tourism practice during the pandemic.

The town’s entry, named Mibangon Atamo (We Rise as One), focused on everyone’s involvement in overcoming the challenges posed by the epidemic to their local tourism economy.

In a phone conversation on Wednesday, local tourist officer Mary de Guzman stated that the Bayanihan is still alive and well in their town, despite the pandemic, among national government agencies, tourism employees, associations, and individuals.

“We, the local government unit (LGU), work with law enforcement to ensure that minimum public health requirements and other regulations are followed in tourism locations and hotels,” she said.

De Guzman noted that they have made every effort to educate tourism-related enterprises and the general people about health and safety measures, particularly when traveling, in order to ensure that health and safety come first.

The Bolinao Tourism Association, on the other hand, provided meal packs, hygiene kits, and vitamins to patients and front-line workers at the outset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) epidemic, she added.

The community has set up an incident command center that follows national standards.

During the lockdowns, the local tourism office did not cease operations; instead, it used the opportunity to prepare for the resumption of tourism.

While waiting for local tourism to start, De Guzman said they organized and taught residents electronically to become tour guides in addition to their existing guides.

“We were the first local government unit in the Ilocos Region to conduct such training.” We were able to create professional tour guides after the training, and some of them were displaced airline employees and some were (private) school instructors,” she said.

Before the pandemic, the town had an additional 32 tour guides in addition to the original 70.

“When tourism started in July last year, we had high visitor arrivals who were booking with us, and our tour guides were completely equipped on how to handle tourists during this pandemic,” de Guzman added.

Prior to the relaxation of regulations to allow for tourism, De Guzman said, the municipality’s Vice Mayor Richard Celeste, who is also the Sangguniang Bayan’s tourism committee chairman, wrote and directed the Bolinao Saint James documentary video and virtual tour.

“It’s a marketing tool to persuade tourists to visit our area,” she explained.

The LGU also concentrated on branding by introducing mascots, Bolido and Anao, who are based on a non-historical fable, but their love story lives on in the minds of Bolinao residents, she said.

According to De Guzman, the LGU, led by the local chief executive, resolved to balance the economic and people’s health, but they prepared the required measures to do so.

“Even though most of the province’s tourist attractions remained closed and were hesitant to return, we forged ahead since we knew we were prepared.” “We have to keep in mind that if we don’t reopen, tourist workers and businesses will suffer,” she warned.

In the town, there are 745 tourist workers, 120 lodging businesses, and 23 eateries.

From January until the present, there have been 172,710 visitors to the attractions and 43,821 people who have stayed here.

De Guzman, on the other hand, claims that since reopening in the middle of last year, there has been no increase in Covid-19 cases and that there have been no big occurrences in the town related to tourism.

“The award is just a cherry on top of the benefits of the best practices we’ve been implementing in our community.” Nonetheless, it is a validation of our efforts, and we are grateful to all of the stakeholders, tourist workers, government agency partners, front-line workers, and everyone,” she said.

Apart from Iloilo City, which won first place, Bolinao defeated 12 other finalists. Davao City came in third.

The theme of this year’s Pearl Awards, “Search for the Best Tourist Practice During the Pandemic,” recognizes the numerous tourist innovations implemented by LGUs in their destination/area in response to the industry’s issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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