The potential reopening of other tourism sites in the country will depend on the success of the “Ridge To Reef” travel bubble between Baguio City and Ilocos Region, according to Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.
Puyat said other local chief executives remain reluctant to reopen several local destinations for fear of a possible COVID-19 outbreak.
With the first travel corridor created between the Philippines’ Summer Capital and the Ilocos region, she said the governors from Visayas and Mindanao are watching for its results.
“I was talking to the governors of Visayas and Mindanao and they are all waiting to see what will happen to this Baguio and Ilocos region [travel corridor],” she said in an interview aired over DZMM Teleradyo.
“It seems that this is the pilot [test] for all,” the tourism chief added.
Though the DOT is the agency in-charge of crafting all the health and safety guidelines for the resumption of tourism activities, the department reiterated that the local government units will have the final say as to when they will reopen for local travelers outside their region.
“Believe me, everybody is praying that it will be so successful so the rest will follow. We want to reopen everything but they are still hesitant that tourists may bring COVID-19 [to their area],” she said.
Though many have expressed their opposition toward the reopening of domestic tourism, Puyat also underscored that the move is a balance between health and economy.
In 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) recorded around 5.7 million employed tourism workers in the country but Puyat said a recent study revealed 4.8 million have been directly affected by the pandemic.
“The important thing for me is really to reopen [tourism] because a number of workers lost their jobs. Every time I visit a tourist spot, they always ask me “Ma’am, when are we getting our jobs back?,” she stressed.
Puyat also said they are asking the health department to provide COVID-19 laboratories to tourist centers to aid the resumption of tourism.
During the previous months, the DOT had successfully raised donations from the private sector which provided real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) machines in the province of Bohol and Boracay Island in Aklan province.
She said they are also waiting for the Department of Health (DOH) guidelines on antigen testing as a potential requirement for domestic travel, substituting the earlier proposed RT-PCR test as antigen testing can produce results in as fast as 15 minutes and is relatively cheaper.