Nissan PHL, DoT work to restart domestic tourism via land travel

I ADMIT there was a time when I dreaded driving up to Baguio City on a weekend, and it was simply because of the sheer traffic I had to endure on the way up there! I recall to have made it a point to drive up to the beautiful city only on weekdays — during off-peak hours — while secretly wishing I could just somehow teleport to Camp John Hay where I could enjoy crisp morning jogs with the forest bathed in fresh pine.

Obviously, nine months into our several shades of community quarantine, my feelings have changed. I’ve absolutely missed driving up to Baguio — or anywhere else outside of Metro Manila, for that matter — and couldn’t wait for the time when we could all happily journey over to our favorite destinations in Luzon again. And this feeling, I reckon, is mutual. Summer capitals such as Baguio City — once the most visited holiday destination within Luzon — have suffered great economic losses from the abrupt dive in tourism. They couldn’t wait for us to come visit them, either.

So, thankfully, the Department of Tourism (DoT) has implemented safety guidelines on how certain holiday destinations could slowly and carefully open themselves to visitors once more. Nissan Philippines, Inc. (NPI) saw this as a beautiful glimmer of hope and optimism for the Filipinos who are bordering on contracting cabin fever, and immediately jumped on the idea to help the DoT market the “reopening” of certain holiday hubs, as part of NPI’s latest CSR project.

And this is what brought me my latest drive story — a journey to somewhat “test the waters” and experience what it’s like to safely travel in the new normal. My trusty vehicle was the spacious and brawny Nissan Terra, which already had me daydreaming about all the pasalubongs I could fit in and take back home with me, even before leaving Manila!

While it may appear a bit intimidating at first, the protocol to enter Baguio City as a tourist is pretty straightforward. The two most important things: You have to register online and receive a QR code as proof of approval of your visit, and you have to prove that you and your party are COVID-free. You see, the city of Baguio currently applies a tourist cap of about 200 visitors a day. To make sure that you and your companions fall within the daily quota of tourist entries applicable on the day that you plan to arrive, you must each submit an online application via visita.baguio.com.ph.

After submitting your online application — which will require you to enter a valid e-mail address and to upload a photograph of yourself — you will receive an e-mail confirming that your application is currently being processed. Once your request is finally approved, you will receive a second e-mail that will explicitly state the approval and that will also include a personal QR code (which you will have to present for scanning, upon entry into Baguio). In my opinion, it is also best to get COVID-tested before you go on your journey, as it would be such a shame to be turned away at the checkpoint, should you ever test COVID-positive while already entering Baguio.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that even if you did not have the chance to get yourselves COVID-tested while at your point of origin, you may opt to get COVID antigen-tested (this is also a swab test) in the official triage area of Baguio City (which is a checkpoint that you will have to pass through anyway). Of course, testing on site will come with a fee. And should you opt to get COVID-tested beforehand, it is important to remember that the result will be considered valid if it was produced within the last 72 hours.

It is also important to pre-book your accommodations via any DoT-accredited hotel in Baguio. This will also ensure your safety, as these accredited hotels already have in place the recommended safety protocols for visitors — including temperature checks and the filling out of health declaration forms prior to entry.

What I can say is that as of the time of my visit — which was on a weekend in mid-November — going around Baguio City felt safe as it was not as crowded as one would expect it to be in the “ber” months. I also commend the local government for having nicely implemented a plethora of safety protocols all over the city (which the locals were also diligently abiding by, per my observation).

As a matter of fact, I trotted to the Baguio City Public Market and found that there were clearly marked one-way lanes for foot traffic going up, through, and down the foot bridges leading to the market. And while inside the market, all the vendors appeared to be wearing their face masks (properly) and had their face shields planted on their heads. Sometimes they lifted their shields upward to take a better look at things, but they were mindful of their actions and were excited to see some Manileños finally coming back to shop.

The market also had directional lanes for passersby on each side, ensuring that no one would bump into each other face-to-face. There were also alcohol dispensers and trash bins every few meters, so people could disinfect their hands whenever they deemed necessary.

I drove the 4×4 Terra throughout this journey and it gave me the priceless peace of mind I needed, knowing that I would be safe and always in control of my driving through any kind of weather conditions. The vehicle is also gifted with several active and passive safety features, and the 360-degree-view parking is especially handy when parking is often scarce and tight. Moreover, I departed Metro Manila (BGC area) aboard the Terra, with a full tank, drove through the highway (and used cashless RFID, of course), climbed up the mountain via Marcos Highway (Kenon is closed), drove around Baguio City, and returned to BGC with still almost a quarter tank of fuel! Of course, I am an eco-driver by default, but I did push down on the pedal while having to overtake the occasional overloaded truck on the last bit leading to the entry point of Baguio. Travel time was approximately 4.5 hours per way, from initial departure to the first checkpoint. If there’s a golden window to visit Baguio in the Christmas Season sans the usual hustle and bustle, now is the time. Thank you, Nissan Philippines, for helping stimulate our local tourism back to life via land travel!