The island province of Palawan will kick off its domestic tourism program with a dry-run reopening at El Nido Resorts this July, according to Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.
She said the trial run will be conducted “as soon as possible” this month to assess whether or not the selected tourism destinations will be ready for its actual reopening proposed in August.
Only those coming from modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) areas will be allowed entry to the province, provided that they tested negative in the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test.
Puyat flew to El Nido on Friday to personally check the readiness of one of the country’s top tourism destinations.
She held a consultative meeting with the local officials, including Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez, El Nido Mayor Edna Lim, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes Jr., San Vicente Mayor Amy Alvarez, Palawan 1st District Representative Franz Alvarez, Palawan 3rd District Representative Gil Acosta, and other tourism stakeholders.
During the meeting, the body concurred that they will be adopting the DOT’s “slow but sure” approach so as to prevent a potential coronavirus outbreak from tourism.
“Ang gusto ni Mayor Alvarez i-try muna with a few tourists kasi you have to dry run the safety protocols. At saka meron na rin silang Certificate of Authority to Operate (Mayor Alvarez wants to try it first with a few tourists because you have to dry run the safety protocols. Also, they already have a Certificate of Authority to Operate),” Puyat said in a separate interview with the Manila Bulletin.
Since the massive travel restrictions have been imposed, Puyat said Palawan suffered major tourism losses as there were no tourists coming to the island.
For the period of March until June, Palawan’s top three tourism sites El Nido, Coron, and San Vicente, have not generated any tourism revenue. El Nido, being the province’s top tourism destination lost P1.7 billion, followed by Coron with P1.3 billion, and San Vicente with P167 million, for a total estimated tourism revenue of P3.1 billion. Around 14,000 tourism workers were also displaced.
“We will restart safely and conveniently for everyone, including the players in the tourism sector, especially the locals here in El Nido so that they will be able to understand that closing the economy forever is impossible,” Governor Alvarez said during the meeting.
“We are not saying that we will be opening the gates so that we will have mass tourism. There is no such thing for us. This will be selected, targeted, this will be prioritized tourism in Coron, El Nido, and San Vicente,” he added, citing that the gradual resumption of tourism in the province is necessary for them to survive.
Point to point trial run
Puyat said that El Nido Resorts is the most ideal travel destination to conduct the tourism reopening pilot test.
“Ang maganda kasi sa El Nido Resorts, pagka-land mo ng airport, pwede ka nang diretso sa isla (What’s good about El Nido Resorts is that once you land the airport, you can go directly to the island). You don’t even have to go to the town,” she said, emphasizing that it’s just a 10-minute ride from the El Nido Lio Airport.
To note, El Nido Resorts is one of the most highly regarded destinations in the said town. It is a group of sustainable island resorts stretching from El Nido to Taytay municipalities in Palawan.
Puyat said local officials are still hesitant about island-hopping activities, but she said they are eyeing the reopening first of small lagoons during the dry run.
The Inter-Agency Task Force’s age requirement policy remains in place, hence visitors below 21 years old and 60 years old and above will not be allowed entry.
In terms of carrying capacity, she said: “Pag-uusapan pero definitely kung El Nido Resorts hindi naman aabutin ng carrying capacity (We will talk about that but if it’s El Nido Resorts it won’t reach the carrying capacity number), noting that entry at the lagoons will be at reduced at 50 percent.
Governor Alvarez also noted that Palawan locals coming from other towns need not present travel passes to visit El Nido as the whole of the province remains under MGCQ since June 1.
Mandatory swab test
Puyat observed that travel to Palawan will be “temporarily” costlier than it was in the pre-COVID period.
The officials agreed to the proposal of Dr. Mary Ann Navarro, Palawan’s provincial health officer, that visiting tourists from MGCQ areas will have to submit themselves first to any Department of Health (DOH)-accredited testing center to undergo RT-PCR test. But as leisure travelers, they will have to shoulder the expenses on their own.
Only DOT employees flying to El Nido on official business will have the perks of testing fee exemption as this will be covered by the government.
“You have to take it at least 48 hours before flight,” she said.
When the trial run goes well, all tourists who plan to visit El Nido and San Vicente, Palawan will have to undergo the swab test as required by the local heads.
Puyat reminded the tourism players that the safety and health of guests and tourism workers should not be compromised in the resumption of tourism operations.
“Masaya ako na positive yung visit sa second tourist site (I am happy that the visit is positive for the second tourist site),” she told the Manila Bulletin.
The DOT chief is set to talk next with Governor Arthur Yap of Bohol, while she said, Mayor Benjamin Magalong of Baguio City is eyeing the possible reopening of the “summer capital” in September.