Baguio City, including the four provinces in Region 1 which are part of the “Ridge to Reef” travel corridor program, will officially reopen their tourism destinations beginning October, officials said Tuesday.
In a press briefing following the launch of Baguio City’s first online management system for the tourism bubble, Mayor Benjamin Magalong said he is looking at October 1 as a target date for the resumption of tourist activities in the Philippines’ summer capital, with local visitors from Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan as their priority.
The initial reopening date was scheduled on Sept. 22 but he said they are yet to synchronize and address technical issues with all the local government units (LGUs) involved.
“We are looking at October 1 as a very potential date for us to reopen in the City of Baguio. For other provinces they have their own schedule,” he said.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat reiterated that even with the resumption of domestic tourism, “overtourism” will no longer be allowed in the new normal. Hence, Baguio City will initially implement 200 visitors carrying capacity per day.
“But all these are fluid because again, we want to restart tourism. We want to bring back the jobs of our workers. But of course, there is still the presence of a virus so health and safety first,” Puyat said.
Ilocos Norte Governor Matthew Joseph Manotoc is also looking at October 1 as a possible date to welcome Baguio residents, primarily in the town Pagudpud which is famous for its white sand beaches.
“We hope to welcome tourists as soon as October even for long staying visitors and work-from-the-beach visitors,” he said.
Ilocos Sur Governor Ryan Singson, through his provincial tourism head, also said that they are ready to accept tourists from Baguio and other neighboring provinces beginning October 1.
La Union Governor Francisco Emmanuel Ortega III, on the other hand, wants the reopening of his province to Region 1 and Baguio tourists by mid- October. Pangasinan officials are thinking of doing the same thing.
They said they will wait for the unified guidelines of the online registration before allowing neighboring tourists to their respective areas.
Like Baguio, Ilocos region will also limit the number of tourists visiting the tourism destinations once the travel bubble begins.
Region 1 Tourism Director Jeff Ortega said they will implement 50 visitors carrying capacity per day, relatively lower than that set by Baguio City.
“We have to base it on how we operate health and safety protocols and the most important is to make sure a slow and gradual reopening and that’s what we want,” he said.
Unlike during the pre-pandemic phase, Ortega said there will only be select tourist destinations across the four provinces which will be accessible to tourists as earlier identified by the technical working group.
Indoor museums will be restricted in the meantime, but open air tourism will be the concentration. Tourists will then be allowed to visit Paoay Sand Dunes and Pagudpud white sand beaches in Ilocos Norte, the outdoor museum and heritage houses in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, surfing areas in La Union, and the pilgrimage sites in Pangasinan.
But those who plan to join tours in Manaoag town will be required to secure a travel authority from the Philippine National Police (PNP), a medical certificate, and pre-booked accommodation arrangements through Pangasinan’s tourism office.
Benguet to join the tourism bubble
Though the corridor program did not initially sit well with La Trinidad Mayor Romeo Salda after they were not consulted on the plan, Puyat confirmed that the local heads of Benguet province have agreed to join the tourism bubble.
Puyat met with the mayors of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Atok and Tublay as well as the governors of Benguet and Ifugao on Monday to discuss the reopening of domestic tourism.
She said the local chief executives want to focus on boosting their farm tourism sites and enticing tourists in visiting the known Sakura Farm in Atok, Benguet and engage in some thrilling activities like mountain climbing and biking.
But Magalong said they will be strictly implementing the rules in the resumption of tourism by which, he said, only guided tours are allowed, restricting the most common "do it yourself" (DIY) travels.
Though the LGU will not impose certain penalties, he said violators will be sent out and banned from entering the city.
Puyat ensures that even with the gradual reopening of travel destinations, the health and safety guidelines will be strictly imposed to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.