Mindanao bombings won’t affect tourism revival — DOT

Published August 27, 2020, 3:21 PM

by Hanah Tabios

The recent suicide bombing attacks in Mindanao region will not greatly affect the reopening of tourism in the country, according to an official of the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Military personnel stretcher away some of the victims after an improvised bomb exploded next to a military vehicle in the town of Jolo on Sulu island on August 24, 2020. (Photo by Nickee BUTLANGAN / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

The DOT was commenting on a travel advisory from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the United Kingdom released Thursday directing all British nationals not to travel to western and central Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago due to terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.

The British government also advised against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao, excluding Camiguin, Dinagat, and Siargao Islands, due to the threat of terrorism.

This was in addition to the global advisory against non-essential international travel.

Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr., also the DOT spokesperson, was saddened by the incident but he underscored that this will not affect the inflow of tourists as the southern Philippine town of Jolo, where the attacks took place this week, is not part of the country’s major tourism destinations.

Though the DOT recorded an average of one hundred thirty thousand British nationals who are visiting the country in a year, the highest in the European market, Bengzon said these tourists are visiting mostly Boracay Island and other tourism spots in Luzon and the Visayas region.

He said during the pre-COVID phase, most tourists from the western countries would often flock to tropical destinations like the Philippines, especially during the winter season.

But with the continuous spike in COVID-19 cases, leisure travel remains suspended. Only Philippine and foreign nationals holding valid residency permits can only enter the country, including foreign nationals with long-term visas.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat previously said that the department is eyeing to adopt “travel bubbles” or coronavirus corridors to allow entry to foreign visitors at certain Philippine travel destinations where coronavirus cases have been contained.

But for now, only residents of municipalities with domestic tourism sites are being allowed to visit their areas. Bengzon described the recent visitor arrivals as “very encouraging” compared to the situation during the previous months.

“Our initial report is very encouraging because we can see there is already a movement [of tourists]. Of course, that will start in the municipality but long distance travel will take some time especially if they need to get there by airplane,” the undersecretary said in Filipino.

“Eventually, the volume of tourists will increase based on the travelers confidence [to travel again],” he added.

The DOT said tourism activities will only resume if the area will be finally placed under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ). Tourism enterprises will also be able to operate at 50 percent capacity.