Mask easing seen to lure more foreign tourists

In file photo: Beach service in Club Paradise in Palawan

THE lifting of Covid-19 mask restrictions for outdoor activities will help attract more foreign tourists to the Philippines.

In a news statement, Tourism Secretary-designate Christina Garcia Frasco welcomed the decision of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to relax the country’s masking rules, “especially as empirical data shows that in other economies in Asia, Europe, and North America where stringent health protocols were lifted, this resulted in more favorable economic conditions, increased tourist arrivals, and faster recovery of their respective tourism portfolios.”

Marcos Jr. has signed Executive Order No. 3 making the wearing of face masks outdoors, optional. However, the public must continue to wear their masks in indoor settings, and when using public transportation.

Garcia Frasco said, with the new EO, “and hopefully, the eventual recalibration of all remaining restrictions, the country will be able to strike the necessary balance between protecting lives and promoting livelihood. Our prospects for recovery are much brighter with the Philippines’ signal to the world that we are open, we are ready, and we are moving forward.”

The Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) said, however, more needs to be done to attract more foreign tourists to the country.

‘Not a dealbreaker’

TCP President Jose C. Clemente III told the BusinessMirror that tourists were actually ambivalent about the mask-wearing requirement. “They will follow rules. [The relaxation of the mask mandate] takes a little of the inconvenience off, but it’s not a dealbreaker.”

However, he underscored the issues that should be addressed to make travel to the Philippines and around the country, easier and more seamless. “On behalf of the stakeholders, we urge the Department of Tourism to bring to the attention of the relevant agencies running the OneHealth Pass [OHP] [the need] to address the countless complaints we are still receiving from tourists

regarding a mirror site that is charging them a free for registration. This is a disservice to our efforts to bring in foreign visitors to revive the tourism industry.”

He added, Philippine embassies and consulates should publish on their web sites the correct link to the OHP registration. Many Philippine and foreign carriers already inform their passengers to the country about the OHP registration, providing them a direct link to the site via email.

TCP already raised the issue last August but Clemente said many travel agencies and tour operators continue to get complaints from inbound tourists about the fake or “mirror” sites. The Bureau of Quarantine has insisted that the OHP site is “user friendly.” (See, Travelers blamed for entry delays,” in the BusinessMirror, August 4, 2022.)

The TCP also suggested that the OHP function as a “universal pass” so tourists can go anywhere in the Philippines. “All the information should already be there. It’s redundant for tourists to keep filling up new forms, or uploading their vaccination certificate, or registering for QR codes when they want to travel to other local destinations. Tour operators always get asked why this is the situation, because in other countries, they only fill up one form or use one app,” said Clemente.

Foreigners account for bulk of arrivals

The Philippines was the first in Asia to allow the entry of fully vaccinated leisure tourists, and dropped the requirement for predeparture Covid tests. Unvaccinated tourists are still not allowed to enter the country.

From February 10 to August 29, tourist arrivals in the Philippines have

reached 1.35 million, with foreign nationalities accounting for 68.3 percent or 923,322, while the rest are overseas Filipinos at 429,582.

It was Garcia Frasco who proposed the lifting of mask restrictions in outdoor settings during a meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on September 5. She had earlier vacationed in Singapore with her family, and observed the public didn’t wear masks outdoors. This likely influenced her mother, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, to lift the mask mandate for outdoor activities as well, causing an initial clash with the national government.

Despite the relaxation of mask rules, Malacañang has also said there was a possibility that the state of calamity due to Covid will be extended until yearend.

Marcos Jr. himself recently got sick with Covid shortly after assuming office. It was his second time to fall prey to the virus. He was one of the first public personalities who got Covid at the beginning of the pandemic.

Image credits: Club Paradise Palawan


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