Opening up tourism
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - October 5, 2020 - 12:00am

It seemed like a tentative step. Government opened Boracay to domestic tourists last week, but it doesn’t mean other tourist areas are ready to open as well.

“There were actually 35 tourists who came to Boracay yesterday by air, land and sea,” Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat said in an interview on ANC’s “Headstart.”

“Of course, there were people from Aklan, also some from Iloilo,” she said. “Only seven came from Metro Manila.”

Might seem like a small step, but I think it is significant enough given the mentality of IATF and LGU officials on domestic travel.

It is a big thing that a PNP permit is not required, nor a clearance from one’s barangay. Only a negative RT-PCR test result not earlier than 48 hours before they travel and a confirmed reservation from the resort are needed.

I understand the Ayala El Nido has been open for a while and all that is required is a negative RT-PCR test result from Qualimed, their endorsed testing center. The mayor has refused to open the other resorts in the area.

I am told that for Balesin, you just need a negative result on a swab test and you are all set.

These are high-end bubbles that are able to assure their guests and their staff are as COVID free as current tests would indicate. Boracay is the first attempt to open up in a more general way to domestic tourists.

What about Bohol? I texted Gov Art Yap and this was his reply: “It is very clear we cannot afford to stay shut. The challenge is how to do so without endangering local safety.

“Right now, we have started distributing family-based contact tracing cards to the population. When we do open up, guests will have to register and download our app and be given a QR code.

“There will be no DIY trips in Bohol. We will curate and manage the visits and the IT between accredited establishments and hotels and tourism sights so we can always contact trace if need be.

“We want to study MICE events as the first step to opening up. That way, people can be better monitored and contact traced. For basic requirements we are studying requiring guests to arrive with a 48-hour old valid PCR test with the requirement that any stay five days and beyond will need a confirmatory PCR test.

“The downloaded QR code will also pave the way for contactless reservations and purchases. For now, we are all working on these protocols. We may not be ready for a month or two. If we do open, it will be a bubble within a bubble. The bubble of Panglao opening within the bubble of Bohol first.”

Baguio has opened up too. But visitors must be tested before entering the city in a triage center. Then wait one day at the hotel for results.

Manny Gonzalez, who runs Plantation Bay in Mactan, observed that “If the world’s worst-hit countries can re-start tourism, why can’t we?

“Our Japanese agents are eager to resume business, but there are no flights. Same for Korea. We could easily reopen the Japanese and Korean markets with little risk. Both countries have much lower COVID-19 cases than us.

“As a further precaution, hotels could be made responsible for ensuring that foreign guests don’t go to high-risk places like public markets, nightclubs, and local massage parlors.

“As for local tourism, it is non-existent. Senseless restrictions on Manila residents are preventing them from traveling. At Plantation Bay we are only getting a few Cebu customers, none from Manila.

“One additional fact: most hotels have reached their six-month DOLE limit on temporary furloughs. Staff who aren’t restored to active duty soon, must be terminated. As this happens, those job skills will be permanently lost and the hotel must pay severance, further depleting cash.

“What this means is that unless the country’s tourism re-opens NOW, any future re-opening will be with new staff, adding probably six months and half a year’s payroll (with no corresponding income) to the process. Most resorts won’t have the money to do that, and like many restaurants – may not be able to re-open at all.

“Plantation Bay kept paying full salary to all staff all the way up to June, so we have a little more breathing room, but not much.”

Manny is right. Why can’t someone from Manila travel to Mactan and stay at Plantation Bay for a week or two? Many of us are afflicted with cabin fever after months of lockdown. Even before COVID, I used to go to Plantation Bay and stay there for a week just to unwind and I go nowhere else.

There are many more like me in Metro Manila raring to relax in Mactan’s many resorts or in Bohol Panglao’s Bluewater simply because a change of scenery is rejuvenating. There is a pent-up domestic market that can save the local tourism industry.

We simply have to learn how to live with the virus because it could be around for at least a couple of years. We don’t have to wait for a vaccine if we follow proven protocols. Our ASEAN neighbors are starting to re-open their tourism industry and will get a headstart.

Having a simple, but effective test for the virus will enable more people to travel. There is good news.

Researchers in Japan announced last week that they found a simple saliva test for COVID-19 that is as reliable as the widely used, but more complicated and uncomfortable swab tests.

Running the machines used for the saliva tests are compact, require no special training to operate, and yield results in just 30 minutes. Japanese regulators recently approved the use of saliva testing. It is helping eliminate long lines for passengers at airport screening points.

DOH is reported to be validating the new test. Hopefully, it can be used here and help revive our travel industry.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco


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