MANILA – The Philippines is looking at setting up travel bubble arrangements with other Asian countries, a tourism official said Monday, as its neighbors begin to loosen travel restrictions after imposing lockdowns meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“We've done some preparatory work, more or less which destination in Southeast Asia or at least in Asia will be part of the travel bubble program, which will most likely involve our resort destinations,” Tourism Undersecretary Bong Benzon told ANC.
However, he did not say when such program would begin and what countries could be involved, but it’s part of the country’s efforts to further revive the hard-hit tourism sector.
To date, travel bubble arrangements, in which areas can open their borders to each other to allow free movement of travelers, have been confined to domestic destinations, Benzon said.
On Monday, Siargao in Surigao Del Norte, which is considered the country's surfing capital, will open its doors to tourists anew, following the reopening of Baguio City and Boracay in October.
“All domestic destinations are open to all Filipinos. International traffic is still restricted. But we're hoping that overtime we'll be able to increase the numbers of Filipinos moving around. Siargao is a gem of a destination,” Benzon said.
Domestic tourism accounts for about 80 to 85 percent of total tourism revenue, he added.
“We are confident in the next few months, with our focus on domestic tourism, will be able to generate enough income to tide us over as we go through this difficult time,” the tourism official said.
The Philippine government has allocated some P10.1 billion under the Bayanihan 2 law, Benzon said, to support the reopening of local tourist destinations.
Some P6 billion funds were earmarked as capital loans for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and P3 billion financial assistance to displaced tourism workers.
As the agency eyes more travel bubbles in other parts of the country, Benzon urged tourists and local government units (LGUs) to remain vigilant against the threat of COVID-19.
“It is also important for travelers to maintain a certain level of discipline. To be patient, to be cooperative in the implementation of health and safety protocols,” he said.
“Definitely there will be adjustments on the part of the travelers as well as on the part of the host communities and tourism establishments.
“I think what's fundamental here is we continue to follow the basic protocols we've been accustomed to for the last 8 months,” Benzon added.