The reinvigorated Municipal Tourism Culture and the Arts Council of the Municipality of Aringay which was reactivated and reorganized on March 1, 2018 and ended its term on July 31, 2019 capped its performance by bagging the top Tourism Award by the Province. The tourism council that spearheaded the developments of a Municipal Tourism Roadmap was awarded as the best LGU in implementing tourism initiatives in the province.

More than a year after its reorganization, the Tourism Council started studying tourism benchmarks that would be very helpful for the success of its tourism programs. Formally reorganized last March 18, 2018, Executive Order 2018-08 the Executive Order established the body, went into effect at once. The Tourism Council is intended to boost Aringay’s tourism industry with a conceptualization of a Municipal Tourism Development Program (MTDP). As part of the Council’s strategy to put tourism and cultural heritage programs in place in the Municipality.

The Planning activities took a six-month process. It was composed of different workshops both done by the Municipality and the Province of La Union. The MTDP underwent technical review by the a panel from the Provincial Government and the Aringay Tourism Team hurdled the process in flying colors last February 23, 2019. After minor revisions based on the technical review panel, we submitted the MTDP for adoption by the Sangguniang Bayan. On April 19, 2019, the document was approved and the Municipality has now a blueprint for tourism development. We are the first to submit and ratify a MTDP in the province of La Union.

Through the Tourism, Culture and Arts Council, the thrust of tourism was systematized. Different committees were formed to attend to the different aspects of tourism and culture – Executive, Heritage, Parks and Open Spaces, Beautification, Agri-tourism and Media-Marketing Committees.

The Heritage Committee was tasked to look into the present heritage activities of the Municipality. It reviewed the heritage properties that our town has. It submitted a preliminary report of the town’s Heritage Inventory and documented all the necessary requirements for a heritage structure to be declared. It made an in-depth study on the Aringay Railway Tunnel, locally known as the Salapac Tunnel and more popularly known as the Centennial Tunnel of Aringay in its aim to declare the structure as National Cultural Treasure. The Council prepared a study that looked into the cultural significance of a tunnel and a 100-page report was submitted as an attachment to the nomination of our cultural heritage property.

In June of 2018, the Heritage Committee and the Media-Public Relations and Marketing Committee teamed up and launched a Photowalk Activity. The photowalk was aimed at two things. First, to take pictures of the different tourist destinations of the town and secondly, to create a form of cardiovascular exercise in walking. So both artistic and health intents were targeted in this endeavor. At the end of the year, during the fiesta celebrations, the Council launched the First Coffee Table book of Aringay on December 1, 2019. It was cupped by a Tourism and Cultural Heritage night where dances, songs and theater were celebrated.

As to the Parks and Open Spaces Committee, they are on the planning stages. They are making a proposal for the following: 1.) Upgrade and improvement of the Don Agaton Yaranon Memorial Park, 2.) Possible forest reservation parks surrounding the Centennial Tunnel and that of Bubon Posi, and 3.) The Aringay Seashore, Marine and Reforestation Park in Samara. And that’s still the plan. It is expected that the Forest Parks around the Centennial Tunnel and Bubon Pose will be completed by year’s end. The Aringay Seashore, Marine and Reforestation Park plan had been submitted for consideration. We are waiting for the declaration of the area as a Marine Reservation and Forest Park so that we can proceed with the implementation of the plan. Although much of the proposed parks plans are almost finished, the problem of funding is the primary consideration for its implementation. In relation to the Centennial Tunnel Park, it is imperative that we wait for its declaration as National Cultural Treasure since funding will come from the regulating agencies and the provincial government.

As to the Beautification Plan of the Municipality, although there is already a blueprint and just waiting for implementation, the Municipality had shelved the beautification plan at the center while waiting for the outcome of the beautification plan of the Church. Once the beautification plan of the church which includes the town plaza is ongoing, the Committee is carefully reviewing different plans and designs that are in concordance with the total look of the town. As part of the endeavor of the province of La Union to launch the Bougainvillea as the provincial flower, the Municipality has launched last August 26, 2019 propagating seedlings for the plant in time for the bougainvillea festival in March of 2020.

As for the agri-tourism committee, plans are in place to the development of the Demo Farm of the Municipality as a bamboo nursery and Bamboo park.

A bambusetum will emerge at the area and eventually will be touristic site in Pangaoaoan East. The annual agri-industrial fair of the Municipality will still highlight the different crafts and products. The plan for the seashore park will be tackled by the committee together with the parks committee.

As to the Media-Public Relations and Marketing committee, they have utilized social media to promote the activities of the Council. An Information Officer designate was appointed by the Municipality as required by the province of La Union to centralize information of services and in this case tourism. A website, a Facebook forum page, a twitter and an Instagram for Aringay Tourism had been created. Although our internet traffic was observed to be more in Facebook. The team are the one’s involved in informing the public and other stakeholders about what is happening in Aringay with regards to tourism. The team has also intensified campaign to develop a more efficient data collection about tourism. The team act as “travel barometer” to monitor the number of visitors coming to the town. With a well-collected data, it will allow the public to easily get a look at the numbers behind the town’s tourism industry.

There are certain legislations, that were endorsed by the Municipal Tourism, Culture and the Arts Council of Aringay. First is the Proposed Tourism and Heritage Code of the Municipality of Aringay. Second is the Ordinance Declaring Samara as Priority Tourism Development Area and thirdly, the Aringay Hymn Ordinance, Iloco version. We are waiting for the public hearings to ensue so that critical public members can participate as we create more public awareness and involve their inputs in the proposed legislations.

For the year 2020, the MTCAC tried to lobby for more funds to push the tourism agenda and what was planned for 2020. A working fund for the different programs for tourism and cultural heritage was recommended by the Municipal Development Council to the Sangguniang Bayan for approval and ratification.

With the elections of May 2019, a new set of members will be installed as members of the Tourism, Culture and Arts Council. It has been reorganized for the next three years. As the new Council will be formed, the Raniag Aringay Campaign of the outgoing MTCAC has produced the tourism identity of the Municipality. They have created a logo and an icon. They have created an interest in the history of the town. The campaign features expanded marketing in both traditional market and social media without necessarily investing funds.

While Tourism Culture and the Arts Council has big plans, it does not have enough money. It is still working on the basics. While the leadership is supportive, the Council has to create windows of opportunities for investors, donors and philanthropists to push the tourism schema. The Provincial Government is eyeing the development of the Centennial Tunnel once it is declared a National Cultural Treasure. Some other investors, donors and philanthropists have signified interest in developing businesses, parks and tourist destinations. This exuberant climate is helping the Tourism Culture and the Arts Council achieve its goals.

The Tourism Culture and the Arts Council is looking forward to achieving the goals set in the MTDP. The process is arduous. It is not a sure hit and it may be slow by other people’s standards. But as the lyrics of the song says and I quote “Maybe you and I can’t do great things. We may not change the world in one day. But we still can change something. In our small way.”

It was a long effort to get the Tourism, Culture and Arts Council to where it is today. According to the Provincial Information Tourism Office, Aringay is most active Tourism Council in the province. It can be gleaned from the fact that the Tourism Team passed the MTDP ahead of the others and when evaluated, it was deemed recommendable for adoption. It was also the Municipality that had an in-depth study of its declared Municipal Cultural Treasure – the Salapac or the Centennial Tunnel. This despite the scarcity of funding, staffing and organizational tweaks. There is a lot of foundational work to do and by doing a good job working together, we will attain our goals and objectives. Forward we go and forward we will be effective.