Philippines reopens to foreign tourists vaccinated against COVID-19

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 10 2022 01:24 PM | Updated as of Feb 10 2022 01:57 PM

Tourists flock to White Beach in Boaracy amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak on Nov. 30, 2021. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/File
Tourists flock to White Beach in Boaracy amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak on Nov. 30, 2021. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/File

MANILA — The Philippines on Thursday started granting entry to leisure travelers vaccinated against COVID-19, in an effort to boost a tourism sector decimated by the pandemic.

Citizens of some 150 countries that have visa-free entry to the Philippines are allowed to enter, the tourism department earlier said. 

"Ang bottomline po natin ay tatanggap na po tayo ng mga foreign nationals coming for tourism and business," said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles. 

(Bottomline is, we will now accept foreign nationals coming for tourism and business.) 

"If everybody complies with all the minimum health and safety protocols po natin, maging ang mga turista… maa-assure po natin na hindi ito magiging sanhi ng spike or surge in COVID-19," he said in a briefing. 
 
(If everybody complies with all our minimum health and safety protocols, even our tourists, we can assure that this will not cause a spike or surge in COVID-19.) 

Popular for its white sand beaches and rich marine life, the Philippines had planned to reopen to foreign tourists in December, but that was scrapped over concerns about the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus.

"Matagal na tayong ready. Noong March 2020 pa lamang, naka-implement na lahat ng ating health and safety protocol sa lahat ng mga hotel. Kinakausap natin lahat ng mga LGU," Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said in the same briefing. 

(We have long been ready. Our health and safety protocols have been implemented in all hotels since March 2020. We are talking with all local government units.) 

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On Thursday alone, the Philippines is expecting the arrival of around 220 tourists, with the bulk coming from the US, she said. 

"Talagang naghintay sila ng Feb. 10 para lang makarating na rito," Puyat said. 

(They really waited for Feb. 10 to get here.)

At least 30 percent increase in arrivals, or almost 7,000 compared to Wednesday's 4,816, is expected during the day, the Bureau of Immigration said.

Most of them are Filipinos, while around 27 percent are foreign nationals, it added.

"Families, loved ones and partners of Filipinos" are among those expected to enter on the first wave of tourist arrivals, said BI Commissioner Jaime Morente.

"Many unmarried couples and families have long lobbied for the reopening of borders for them to be reunited with their loved ones," he said.

The bureau projects that arrivals will increase to 10,000 - 12,000 per day in the coming months, said Morente.

"We see this as the start of the recovery of the tourism industry which we hope will renew its vigor as in the previous years," he said.

But he instructed immigration personnel to remain vigilant so that only eligible foreigners can enter the country.

The Philippines joins other Southeast Asian countries in reopening to tourists to boost jobs and help their economies recover.

Tourist arrivals in the Philippines from top markets Japan, South Korea and China slumped 83-percent to 1.4 million last year. 

Puyat said the COVID-19 crisis displaced some 1.1 million tourism workers. 

"Ngayon, siyempre may domestic tourism. And with the reopening of the Philippines from foreign visa-free countries, tuloy-tuloy na at magkakatrabaho na iyong mga nawalan," said the official. 

(Of course, with domestic tourism and with the reopening of the Philippines from foreign visa-free countries, those who lost their jobs will now find work.) 

Nograles, who is also acting Malacañang spokesman, recognized authorities "have to ramp up some more" the country's COVID-19 vaccination drive with the reopening of the tourism industry. 

He said this was why the Philippines is holding a nationwide inoculation push on Thursday and Friday. 

The Philippines has fully vaccinated around 60 million of its 109 million population. At least 8.2 million have received booster jabs. 

— With a report from Reuters