BAGUIO CITY—The opening of the 88-kilometer Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX) has led to fewer lean months for tourism in this city, the president of the local hotel and restaurants group said over the weekend.
This developed as Mayor Mauricio Domogan defended the city against criticisms that it was ill-prepared for extensive flooding that came in the wake of Typhoon “Ompong.”
Anthony de Leon, general manager of the Baguio Country Club and president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio, said tourism arrivals in the city grew significantly even during the supposed lean months from June to October since TPLEX was opened to traffic four years ago.
The expressway has cut travel time from Manila to Baguio in half, or from the usual six hours to about 3.5 hours, de Leon noted.
However, for this year, August and September are Baguio tourism’s bad months because of the continuous monsoon rains and the onslaught of Ompong last week, which led to numerous cancellations of reservations for the different hotels in the city last weekend, he added.
“The city’s tourism industry remains robust because of its cool weather that prevails year round. The expected opening of the Rosario exit of TPLEX that will further reduce the travel time from the lowlands to the city will continue to entice people to frequent the Summer Capital, even during weekends that will sustain the growth of the local tourism industry,” de Leon stressed.
From the previous 15 to 20-percent occupancy of hotels during June to October, HRAB said their occupancy rate even reached 100 percent recently, an indication of the vibrance of the local tourism industry.
“That is why there are still a number of companies that are interested to put up hotels in available areas in the city,” de Leon said.
Ramon Cabrera, general manager of the Camp John Hay Manor, claimed their occupancy during the traditional lean months has increased by an average of 15 percent annually because of the reduced travel time from the lowlands to the city.
Meanwhile, Domogan explained that photos and videos of flooding in Baguio posted by the media and on social media do not reflect the overall situation in other parts of the Summer Capital.
He said flooding only happened along some portions of Harrison Road and in the area of Burnham Lake, which saw its banks overflow with the accumulated heavy rainfall that prevailed over Northern Luzon when Ompong cut its destructive path.
“Our soil was still saturated because of the continuous monsoon rains that prevailed over the city last month, aggravated by the heavy rains that prevailed over the city at the height of the tropical cyclone that caused the numerous landslide, resulting to the untimely death of ten persons,” Domogan stressed.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said Baguio recorded over 1,600 milliliters of rainfall, nearly double its projected average of 905 ml of rainfall for the month.
Domogan underscored that the amount of rain that fell on the city at the height of the storm was too much, and the areas where the landslides occurred were not actually landslide-prone areas.
The local government implemented preemptive evacuations in identified critical areas of the city, but the areas where the landslide transpired were not previously identified as landslide-prone.
Based on records from the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, eight of the 10 fatalities in Baguio were victims of landslides. One of the dead was hit by a falling tree. and the other was carried away by the strong water current in a creek near their place.
Domogan asserted that right after Ompong left the city, life in the city was back to normal despite the damage in some parts of the city.