Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat is looking at the possibility of doing familiarization tours with neighboring Southeast Asian countries in hopes to fast-track the recovery of the country’s tourism.
Currently, travel bubbles only exist on a domestic level, where Filipinos and Philippine resident foreigners could visit some major destinations like Boracay, Baguio City, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Palawan, and Siargao Island, which reopened for tourists after months of lockdown.
“We are going to look at if we could have familiarization tours, also known as ‘Fam Tours’ in tourism industry parlance. We are going to different countries na parang ang galaw nila restricted para makaikot kung pwede (where the movement is restricted for us to see if possible),” she said.
“For example, pupunta tayo doon tapos dito babalik as long as may itinerary at hindi magmimingle (with others). We want to see what the best practices are,” she added.
The tourism chief said she has been in talks with the Japanese and Korean ambassadors to the country as part of the preparatory work being done by DOT. Aside from Southeast Asia, the remaining Asian countries are also on the roster of the travel bubble program, which will most likely involve the Philippines’ resort destinations.
South Korea, Japan, and China are three of the country’s top tourist markets in terms of international arrivals for the past years.
However, some Asian countries like Malaysia and China currently bar travelers from the Philippines amid the risk of traveling due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in the country. Some countries also require a test-before-travel policy and a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival which make travel costly in the new normal.
On the part of tourism stakeholders, the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) recently called on its South Korean counterpart to boost operations of travel agencies as the industry is now expecting a slow travel resumption in the coming months.
The PTAA is also pushing for 100 percent visa free entry to South Korea.
Last year, 1.99 million Koreans visited the country. It marked the 10th straight year with them as the Philippines biggest market growing by 168.60 percent from 10 years back when only 740,622 Korean tourists visited the Philippine in 2010.
Meanwhile, 503,867 Filipino tourists visited South Korea last year making it the 8th biggest market after China, Japan, Taiwan, United States of America, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Vietnam.