Sagada in the Philippines’ Mountain Province has started implementing new rules, including placing a cap on the number of tourists per site, to avert a possible repeat of the overcrowding crisis experienced during the most recent peak season (from October till April).
Tourists are now required to get complimentary ticket stubs at the entrance of Marlboro Hill, popular for sunrise viewings, in order for the cap of 500 visitors a day to be observed. Past the 500 mark, visitors will be asked to return another day or be diverted to other sites with equally spectacular sunrise views.
In addition, only select organised tours with registered guides are allowed at all sites. And at Echo Valley and Sumaging Cave, now being promoted as walking tour areas, vehicles are prohibited.
“We still want to establish a more organised tour,” explained Jovita Ganongan, chief tourism operations officer and officer in charge of the Cordillera Administrative Region, where Sagada belongs.
Ganongan told TTG Asia that the local government unit has already issued an order to set up the carrying capacity of every tourism site in Sagada, adding that the Department of Tourism (DoT) is assisting in the implementation.
She said that the caves for which Sagada is also known already have existing management plans limiting the ratio of tour guides: tourists to 1:10. Besides, only three tourists are allowed inside a cave at any one point.
She is pleased that the local government unit is “very responsive” to promote Sagada as an ecotourism destination, protecting the environment and preserving its cultural and heritage sites.
Already popular among European tourists and now gaining traction among tourists from Israel, India and South-east Asia, Sagada is known for its hanging coffins, caves, waterfalls, trails and bucolic scenery.
The destination attracted even more domestic tourists when its Kiltepan Peak was featured in the Filipino rom-com That Thing Called Tadhana, according to Gigi Jamiro, inbound operations manager, Blue Horizons Travel and Tours. Sunrise viewers had flocked to Kiltepan Peak, which remains closed following a fire that engulfed two buildings in November last year.
Jamiro added: “Better road conditions have led to greater ease and comfort in travel, while the increase in the number of public transport connections makes it easier to combine the two main destinations in the Mountain Province – Sagada and Banaue.”
Sagada is also combined with Banaue rice terraces in Ifugao, Baguio, and emerging tourism sites like Kalinga, Apayao and Benguet, which boasts Mount Pulag and new attractions like vegetable and flower gardens.
Travel consultants are supportive of the new tourism rules in Sagada.
Agreeing, Aboex Travel and Tours account executive Joseph Cortez said there’s a real need to start instilling discipline among tourists lest the destination suffers in future.