Ilocos Norte has reopened select tourist destinations last October as part of the “Ridge to Reef” travel corridor that also includes Baguio City, Pangasinan, La Union, and Ilocos Sur. The select number of tourist sites open to the public help ensure the safe, seamless, and gradual reopening of tourism well into the new world order.
Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group are grateful for the opportunity to once again work with the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte — which is now led by Governor Matthew Marcos-Manotoc and Vice Governor Cecilia Araneta-Marcos — Senator Imee Marcos, provincial government officials, city and municipal mayors, planning and tourism officials, the Department of Tourism, businesses, communities, civic and religious organizations, the academe, and other stakeholders for the development of the Metro Ilocos Norte Master Development Plan (MINMDP). The plan’s overall goals are to ensure the province’s sustainable tourism growth while minimizing social and environmental impacts. The MINMDP includes tourism development principles and concepts that have been used for the reopening of the Province’s tourism destinations.
The MINMDP covers the whole province with a total area of 362,291 hectares. The province is five times the size of Metro Manila and Singapore and three times the size of Hong Kong. It comprises two cities and 21 municipalities, which are further subdivided into 559 barangays. Ilocos Norte contains a mix of natural, leisure, cultural, and historical destinations. From high mountains, white-sand beaches, and rock formations to sand dunes, valleys, lakes, waterfalls, and major urban centers, Ilocos Norte offers diverse tourism experiences. These strengthen the province's opportunities for economic development and potential to be one of the major tourism and investment destinations in the Philippines.
Back in 2010, we at Palafox worked with then Governor Imee Marcos and provincial and local government officials to conceptualize the Master Tourism Development Plan of Ilocos Norte that helped elevate conventional tourism for sustainable and positive change. At that time, several tourism assets were identified that shaped the province’s socio-economic development and helped sustain its natural treasures as a contemporary tourism hub at par with global trends. These comprised, among others, the Laoag International Airport, Plaza del Norte, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, Pasuquin Mangroves, Cape Bojeador, Paoay Sand Dunes, Paoay Lake, Paoay Church Complex, and Batac City Plaza. The plan helped produce promising results in the province. Recorded visitors grew from 260,000 in 2012 to more than 2 million in 2016, poverty rates were reduced from 24% in 2010 to 8.4% in 2017, the province’s economy grew by 16.7% in 2013 to 2014, and the unemployment rate dropped from 37% in 2010 to 4.2%.
Forward to 2020 during the ongoing development of the MINMDP, “ridge to reef” principles were applied that cover priority sites in mountain areas up to the shores of Ilocos Norte. The priority areas selected by Palafox and the technical working group alongside the provincial and local government officials were Laoag City Center, Paoay Lake, Malacañang of the North, Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes, Badoc Gateway, La Virgen Milagrosa Cove, Kapurpurawan Geo and Renewable Energy Park, Saud Municipal Beach, and the Solsona-Apayao Tourism Road where various conceptual architecture and urban design recommendations were put forward. These priority areas were chosen with the objectives of preserving their existing environmental conditions, improving public amenities and architectural styles, establishing zoning of activities and development, and enhancing public access and connectivity among the sites.
Because of Ilocos Norte’s immense natural treasures and rich history and heritage, the MINMDP applies a wide variety of tourism development concepts. These include sustainable tourism, architectural tourism, educational and research tourism, heritage tourism, agritourism, ecotourism, mountain and forest tourism, culinary tourism, enotourism, geotourism and desert tourism, and health and wellness tourism, among others. These go hand in hand with a COVID-19 business continuity and post-pandemic recovery plan for tourism that is an essential part of the MINMDP. The plan also identified tourism circuits such as the coastal tourism circuit, architectural tourism circuit, ecotourism circuit, cultural tourism circuit, and culinary and cottage industry tourism circuit, which cover all the LGUs, so the benefits of tourism may be experienced throughout the province. In identifying these circuits, a longer dwelling time is encouraged, and the development of a range of products and services is made possible for the LGUs.
With the Metro Ilocos Norte Master Development Plan, the province hopes to obtain positive results in terms of safely reopening its tourist destinations, further developing additional tourism service areas and products, providing more economic opportunities, and becoming a resilient and globally competitive province well into the 21st century.