MANILA - The Philippine travel industry should restart even if the country is still waiting for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, an official of the country's largest airline said on Wednesday.
While advanced countries are already rolling out vaccination programs against COVID-19 this December, the government has said that the earliest it may start inoculating Filipinos was around March or April next year.
"I think while everyone is really hoping for the vaccine, I think we cannot afford to wait for the vaccine to get here before we start confidently flying again and restarting because of the impact of travel and tourism to the economy," said Candice Iyog, vice president at Cebu Pacific Air.
The operator of the Mactan Cebu International Airport also said that a vaccination program was "not critical" to restarting the industry.
Andrew Harrison, chief executive advisor of GMR Megawide Cebu Airport Corporation (GMCAC), said the travel industry can restart even if the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccination program gets delayed.
"I don't think that will be detrimental," said Harrison during a webinar organized by Cebu Pacific.
"It will be a value for some people but it's not a key criteria to ensure the resurgence of travel," Harrison said.
He added that it was more important to set up a simpler and easier system for letting people know which destinations they can go to, and what requirements they need.
"Our hotline is swamped with people calling us, asking us what are the various requirements. And so clearly, people find it complex and they're not sure how to access this information readily."
The Department of Tourism said its survey showed that 60 percent of Filipinos are willing to travel around the country despite the absence of a vaccine.
Meanwhile, the DOT said it supports the creation of a "COVID-19 passport" which was suggested by Cebu Pacific Air president Lance Gokongwei.
"The DOT recognizes that a COVID-19 passport is vital to reviving international travel as it will restore the trust and confidence of people to travel to other countries once more while assuring receiving countries that their inbound tourists are vaccinated," said Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.
Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon said there are already talks among industry players about the proposed passport.
"There have been initial discussions and even IATA (International Air Transport Association) has a proposal. We're looking at the different options but I think what is clear is we would want travel to be safer, we want it to be more convenient. We will explore all possible ways of making it easier for the traveling public to move around," he said.
Currently, seven areas in the Philippines have already reopened to domestic tourists, specifically, Boracay, El Nido, Baguio, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Lapu-Lapu City, and Coron in Siargao.
DOT said it's already working on opening more tourist sites in the coming year.
- Report from Bruce Rodriguez, ABS-CBN News