LGU chiefs, worried by virus, holding up tourism reopening

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LOCAL government units (LGUs) are directing the pace when their respective regions and provinces will reopen to tourism.

This was underscored by Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat in response to repeated appeals from various stakeholders and tourism enterprises who already want to get their businesses going by reopening to tourists.

“We’ve been talking to a few governors and mayors, whose provinces are already Covid-free, and urging them to slowly reopen to tourism,” she told the BusinessMirror. “But many of them are still hesitating, understandably so, and working first to make sure they have testing labs and fully equipped hospitals to receive patients. Of course, we have to respect their wishes.”

For now, only Boracay Island has reopened to tourists, but only to those from Western Visayas, as agreed between the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force and the local government representatives led by Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores and acting Malay Mayor Frolibar Bautista. Romulo Puyat said they are just monitoring the island for 30 days, “and if there are no new Covid cases, we can talk about allowing tourists younger than 21 and older than 60 years old, to enter Boracay,” or when the island is declared Low-Risk Modified General Community Quarantine. At present, Boracay is under MGCQ.

In a visit to El Nido in Palawan last week, Romulo Puyat met with Mayor Edna Lim, who, along with Palawan Gov. Jose Ch. Alvarez, allowed the “dry run” of tourists between Manila/Clark and El Nido. The date of the dry run, however, has yet to be determined. Others lined up for possible reopening to tourism are Bohol and Baguio City, but no dates have been firmed up either for when this will happen.

(See, “Key destinations in Palawan lose over P3 billion in tourism receipts,” in the BusinessMirror, July 4, 2020.)

Romulo Puyat said tourism businesses in these Covid-free areas should bring up their concerns to their respective LGU heads. “We understand their pain, and we know what they are going through. This pandemic has really impacted on their businesses, and many are just hanging by a slim thread. But the decision to reopen their areas is not up to the Department of Tourism.”

The International Labor Organization has estimated that close to 2 million workers have been affected by Covid-19’s impact on local tourism businesses. Last year, foreign tourism arrivals reached 8.26 million.

Meanwhile, in response to a question on how government plans to reinvigorate the tourism industry at the pre-Sona briefing on Wednesday hosted by economic managers, DOT Undersecretary for Tourism Regulation, Coordination and Resource Generation Arturo P. Boncato Jr. said, “A major strategy of the TRRP [Tourism Recovery and Response Program] is to restart tourism, and Secretary Puyat really believes that domestic tourism should be the catalyst of restarting the industry all over the Philippines. In fact, she has already started moving around the country and visited several destinations and actually spoke and really engaged with local government units and their leaders, because the role of LGUs is very crucial to determining as to the time of reopening of destinations. That is exactly what the DOT is doing, looking for these destinations that can jumpstart tourism right away.”

He cited the concept of “travel bubbles” championed by the DOT chief, where   the agency “[looks] for destinations that have contained the virus very well, and there’s really openness and willingness of the local leaders to open to tourism, and match them eventually with international markets, but initially, match them with domestic markets.”

He added the DOT would soon be issuing new health and safety standards  for meeting facilities, travel and tours, tour guides, and “even guidelines for island beach destinations and tourist attractions.” Last week, Romulo Puyat and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez inspected hotels and restaurants to check if minimum health and safety standards are being followed.

(See, “Branded restos, popular food chains secure DOT accreditation,” in the BusinessMirror, July 1, 2020.)

Image credits: Dmitry Pichugin | Dreamstime.com

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