ILOCOS is close to my heart—I am one of her sons.
There is so much more to tourism in Ilocos Norte than its scenic views and geographic landscapes. Behind the province’s seemingly never-ending coastline is a way of life adopted by its people, different from those who live on hilltops and mountains. Many times, tourism is mistaken as simple as a beach or a mountain view, not taking note of the culture, history, and identity that is intertwined with it. And many times, the scenic views are violated by temporary visitors who see nothing of such but consumption.
Sustainable tourism is about persons and life intertwined with history and ecology. To propel conventional tourism into tourism for sustainable and positive change, there should be meaningful planning and decision-making.
In the Philippines, tourism is being viewed as one of the key prospects of sustained economic growth, contributing to foreign-exchange receipts and jobs generation. With the Department of Tourism’s unrelenting enthusiasm to promote our country’s destination gems, the leisure sector has never looked better. Back in 2010, Palafox Associates master planned Ilocos Norte. When we went there in August, its residents were elated and Gov. Imee Marcos shared, “We have nothing but good news. Palafox Associates has begun to put our dreams on paper. Simula pa lamang ito.” The vision was to connect and integrate the cities and towns of Ilocos Norte as one.
For our “Metro Ilocos Master Plan for Tourism,” the firm emphasized five tourism assets of the Ilocos region to shape the socio-economic development that will redefine its cultural footprint and help sustain its natural treasures as a contemporary tourism hub on a par with global trends. The firm closely coordinated with the local government units by educating the community on the benefits and maintenance of eco-tourism and the importance of heritage conservation. Among the areas that have undergone and will be undergoing development are the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, the Pasuquin Mangrove forest in Davila (the only 118.5-hectare mangrove forest in Ilocos Norte), Kapupuraoan Rock Formation, and the UNESCO heritage site of Paoay Church.
Planning and architecture
Ilocos Norte is known for its cultural heritage in Spanish inspired houses and Baroque churches. It has become an identity. When Palafox Associates was asked to prepare the Metro Ilocos Tourism Master Plan, we proposed complementary activities to encourage visitors to shop, dine, at least stay overnight, and fully experience the landscaping features, creating a safe environment by bringing down walls and reorienting buildings to face the plaza, such as arcaded walkways, seats, lights, and directional and way-finding signs.
One of the most well-known Augustinian churches that have survived to this day is the Paoay Church, a UNESCO World heritage site. The design for the arcade facing the church will conform to its Baroque vernacular-style, to preserve the character of the district. The existing centennial building and convent will be converted into commercial spaces and fresco dining venues.
The heritage sites of Ilocos Norte are better experienced by walking and biking rather than riding a car, speeding past the place in seconds. One can focus and travel the streets with a calmer pace. In developing more pathways, wider sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes, more people will be enticed to walk as the streets become more comfortable and safer, away from the speeding vehicles. On the other hand, there are so many blank walls in Laoag. To be able to make the streets safer for walking, especially at night, high walls should be brought down. Criminals are discouraged to commit crimes if there are witnesses. “Eyes on the streets,” as Jane Jacobs calls it. This also makes the homes much safer because many crimes happen behind high walls, out of the notice of neighbors.
Inspired by the design of the heritage city of Zurich, coupled with applying the concepts of green architecture, Ilocos Norte is planned to be walkable, bikeable, and livable.
The three main gateways to Ilocos Norte is the Port of Currimao, Laoag International Airport, and the national highway coming from Luzon by land.
The Port of Currimao is a place where cruise ships dock. The municipality has the potential to become a seaport economy, and site of development for hotels, resorts, and shopping centers. It can also become a major transportation hub where it can assist tourists going to the other areas of the region, such the Paoay sand dunes, Paoay Lake, and Malacañang of the North, among others. As a seaport, it has the potential to develop a warehousing industry because of the ideal dropoff point for goods for Northern Luzon.
For those who choose not to endure the seven- to eight-hour drive from Manila going to the capital city of Ilocos Norte, the Laoag International Airport is a 30- to 40-minute ride away. With the development of the Asean integration, direct flights from other countries will soon travel to the said airport. It also becomes the international gateway between the Philippines and the wealthier countries of Northeast Asia.
There should be a balance of people, planet Earth, profit, culture, and spirituality. There should be balanced development. Tourism should not lead to exploitation, but toward education, development, and preservation of important heritage sites.
Tourism is the largest industry in the world. It is bigger than oil. But to be able to enjoy its fruits we should begin investing in good planning, good design, and good governance. In our experience with Gov. Marcos and the Ilocos Norte leadership, they seem to have these qualities—visionary leadership, strong political will, appreciative of the benefits of good planning with good design and good governance.