'Travel bubbles': DOT eyes tourists from virus-free countries to visit PH

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat said that the department is eyeing to allow tourists from countries with low to zero coronavirus cases to visit the Philippines.

This proposed policy called "travel bubbles," Puyat said, could allow tourists to fly directly to tourist hotspots in the country with international airports.

"Since zero COVID naman sila, we are looking at from their country to Boracay or Bohol na puwede na tayo magka-travel bubble or travel corridor so at least hindi lang tayo limited sa international tourism," Puyat said at a Laging Handa briefing on Friday, June 26.

(Since they have zero COVID-19 cases, we are looking at having "travel bubbles" or "travel corridors" from their country so our international tourism is not limited.)

There are 10 commercial international airports around the country: in Metro Manila, Cebu, Clark in Pampanga, Bohol, Davao City, General Santos City, Iloilo, Kalibo in Aklan, Puerto Princesa, and Zamboanga.

The nearest airport to Boracay Island is the Kalibo International Airport, which is just a boat ride away. Bohol, meanwhile, has the New Bohol International Airport in Panglao Island. 

Puyat said that the department is looking at tourists from countries such as Australia and New Zealand. As of Thursday, June 25, Australia has 37 new coronavirus cases, while New Zealand has only 3. 

"If this goes well, we will finally be able to accept [tourists from] countries where [there is] practically zero or low cases of COVID," Puyat said.

Tourist confidence

In a statement on Friday, Senator Sonny Angara said that apart from Australia and New Zealand, other countries such as Thailand, Singapore, China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan are also exploring the idea of "travel bubbles" to revive the tourism industry.

Angara said that "travel bubbles" could be successful if the Philippine government is able to stop the spread of the virus.

"Trust is key in ensuring success of 'travel bubbles.' The only way our potential partners will agree to 'travel bubble' agreements with us is if we are able to show that we are successfully containing the spread of COVID-19 in the country," the senator said.

But this week alone, the Philippines saw two days when coronavirus cases rose by the thousands – on June 23 (1,150 new cases) and on Friday (1,006 new cases). The total number of cases in the country has already breached 34,000, and experts projected the figure to reach 40,000 by the end of June.

"We continue to record a lot of fresh cases daily and until we can bring these numbers down, confidence of tourists entering the country will be an issue," Angara added.

The tourism industry – which employed 5.7 million people in 2019 – was hardly hit by the pandemic as activities around the country were suspended during the lockdown.

Puyat said that that sector lost 60% of revenue from January to May due to local and global lockdowns. (READ: PH tourism revenues, arrivals halved in first trimester of 2020

Although the Philippines has eased some quarantine restrictions, tourism activities are still only allowed in areas under modified general community quarantine, subject to Department of Tourism accreditation and implementation of health protocols.

Currently, international flights to the Philippines are allowed, but these remained limited to repatriates and returning Filipinos. The government is still studying the reentry of foreign workers. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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