Travel bubbler
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - August 30, 2020 - 12:00am

Thailand, a nation dependent on tourism for a good portion of its economy, isn’t sitting pretty while the pandemic wreaks havoc on its revenues. Plans to open certain destinations like Phuket, which has been hit hard by the absence of tourists, and turning them into what is bandied around these COVID-days as “travel bubbles”, are firming up.

Essentially, international tourists can book flights to their vacation destination, and then instead of the usual quarantine reception where one is treated like a prisoner upon arrival, passengers will instead be feted to make them feel like they’re not cattle, and certainly not behind bars.

By now, we’re all familiar with that 14-day quarantine period, mandated not just by countries for international passengers, but even by neighboring towns or provinces against local visitors. Thais aim to make that period less painful, and make money while they’re at it, and so a delightful menu of options is being cooked up.

Reports from tourism planners indicate that so far, there have been ideas floated like special vehicles to ferry arrivals to and from the airport, and opening up special sections of beaches where beach and ocean can provide vitamin-sea therapy. Over 50 Phuket hotels have reportedly signed up to be designated as quarantine oases, eager to mine the potential tourist dollars.

Cebu’s central planners can look to Thailand for guidance in steering the course of Sugbu’s future. Plenty of hotels and resorts have been shuttered pending the outbreak, and staff have been furloughed in the interim. Innovative ways to open the local economy, and generate employment and income, should always be front and center in the minds of those who hold the future of Cebu in their hands.

Of course, whatever mistakes are made by Phuket can be lessons learned for Cebu. For example, the Phuket plan is only to allow long-term visitors - those who can commit to stay for at least a month. That allows the visitor the whole quarantine period to be spent in comfort, then two more weeks to roam the island, free from COVID restrictions.

Will this scheme work? How will visitors be monitored? How strict should control measures be? What about newly-arrived guests commingling and infecting each other? Are there enough medical facilities available to contain sporadic (or even widespread) outbreaks? What happens after an outbreak?

All these questions, and the foresight and consequent planning that go into addressing these, must be carefully thought out and then implemented by authorities and other stakeholders. Gaps will happen, shortcuts will be taken, and outbreaks, however optimistic we are, will occur. Cebu and other island destinations can watch like hawks and learn from the real-time example of Phuket.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Cebu cannot chart its own course, and try to get ahead of the game by coming up with its own innovative tourism attractions. As a competing destination, it would be best if it isn’t just copy-catting what its neighbors thought of. If Cebu can one-up them, all the better. More tourists for Cebu, more to fuel a recovery.

The Bangkok Post reports that the first market targeted by Phuket will be certain provinces in China. That might not be the market Cebu should be looking at then (especially considering how hostile the locals are to the Chinese aggressions and provocations to our sovereignty). Cebu can then choose to focus on other markets that also have less incidences of COVID (like hey, what about Thais sick of the Andaman sea?) and try to make them come to Cebu instead.

Government shouldn’t just wait for a vaccine. That can be years in the finding, making, and distributing. If government leaders can rise above the occasion, be less passive and more aggressive, there just may be opportunity to get that huge slice of the tourist dollars.

Let’s blow that bubble!

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