MANILA - The Department of Tourism is looking at Thailand’s model for reopening to foreign travelers, as the Philippines seeks to restart its tourism sector which was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are closely watching Phuket, and their sandbox approach,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat during the 2021 Philippine Tourism Expo in Subic, Zambales.
Thailand launched its "sandbox" scheme on July 1, allowing vaccinated travelers to visit Phuket island. Tourists do not have to quarantine in a hotel but can not leave Phuket for 2 weeks.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat also said the DOT is trying to vaccinate the entire tourism sector, so that the quarantine period for international travelers can be reduced, if not eliminated entirely.
“We feel that there should be, as long as we are accepting vaccinated, fully-vaccinated, that we should reduce quarantine days,” Puyat said.
Puyat said the DOT has made progress in vaccinating members of the tourism sector, with 99 percent of hotel staff in Metro Manila already vaccinated. If other tourism operators are included in NCR, the vaccination rate was at 95 percent, Puyat said.
In Boracay meanwhile, 73 percent of tourism workers are already vaccinated, she said. The DOT has also already started vaccinating tourism workers in other destinations like Bohol, Baguio and Palawan.
“The preferences are really outdoor adventures,” said Tonette Velasco-Allones, Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board.
Allones said they are optimistic business will pick up in spite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, because the tourism sector is working hard to address the safety concerns of travelers.
Cesar Cruz, President of the Philippine Tour Operators Association, said they have developed tour packages focused on encouraging road trips in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao amid the complications of current air travel.
“With land travel, we can come out with a lot of packages already. Heritage tourism, farm tourism, nature-based tourism,” Cruz said.
The National Economic and Development Authority said Tourism GDP fell 61 percent year-on-year in 2020, reducing its share of Philippine GDP to 5.4 percent from 12.8 percent in 2019.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said foreign exchange inflows from travel receipts dropped 82 percent in 2020, and will drop another 80 percent this year, before seeing a growth of 25 percent by 2022.
- Report from Warren de Guzman, ABS-CBN News