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DOT eyes international ‘travel bubble’ with virus-free zones

Traditional Filipino Bangka boats on the beach, Panglao, Philippines
Panglao, Bohol

THE Department of Tourism (DOT) is considering the adoption of travel corridors between Covid-free zones in the Philippines and similarly safe countries abroad.

In an interview, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat told the BusinessMirror, because of Covid-19, “It’s hard to sell the Philippines as a whole. So we’re now looking at travel bubbles or travel corridors, between Bohol, if Gov. [Arthur] Yap is open, with other countries like Australia.” She also mentioned New Zealand and South Korea as possible partners for a tourism corridor.

She said Bohol is an ideal area to gradually reopen the country to international tourists because it is building its own Covid-19 testing laboratory. So foreign tourists from other safe countries can get quick results on their RT-PCR tests once they land at the Panglao international airport. “I’m hoping that because Bohol has that RT-PCR testing, [the tourists]  don’t have to be quarantined for 14 days. Quarantining for 14 days is just a way of saying ‘don’t come here.’”

Even the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), a global organization of private tourism and travel professionals, are opposed to the 14-day quarantine of international tourists. (See, “WTTC opposes
14-day quarantine requirement for travelers,” in the
BusinessMirror, May 19, 2020.)

RT-PCR or the reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction, is currently the gold standard in testing for the novel coronavirus. Using a throat or nose swab, results can be as short as four hours.

The creation of travel bubbles “is also a way to open up the other international airports here and decongest Naia [Ninoy Aquino International Airport],” said Romulo Puyat. For now, leisure travel is still prohibited under the general community quarantine (GCQ) status, but will be allowed under the
modified GCQ.

She said she will bring up the idea of these travel bubbles with her overseas counterparts, and also ask the assistance of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to bring it up with other countries.

A travel bubble with other countries also dovetails with the DOT’s earlier plans to create tourism ads for key destinations in the country. Some of the key images for these ads have now been used for the DOT’s “Wake up in the Philippines” ad campaign on social media. (See, “DOT soft sells PHL with new ‘dream’ ad,” in the BusinessMirror, April 27, 2020.)

The idea of a travel bubble or travel corridor was raised in the UK and the European Union, as some member-nations have started lifting international travel restrictions. Australia and New Zealand have also been discussing the idea, and may include Singapore as a partner.

Last week, travel experts were also suggesting travel corridors between island destinations in the Philippines to help jump-start domestic tourism. Even with MGCQ, however, many of these destinations like Bohol, Boracay, and Siargao are still hesitant to accept domestic tourists. (See, “Inbound tourism receipts plunge 61 percent in January-May 2020; LGUs still cautious,” in the BusinessMirror, June 3, 2020.)

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