Local leisure travelers who will visit the province of Bohol will only be allowed to explore the COVID-19-free Panglao Island on its reopening day, the local chief executive announced on Monday.
As of Dec. 14, the entire province only has 69 COVID-19 active cases, with its top dive destination Panglao Island maintaining the coronavirus-free status since the government imposed a lockdown in March.
“We will see what will happen by tomorrow. Slowly, maeengganyo natin yung mga kababayan na bumisita at bumyahe dito sa Bohol. (We will slowly encourage Filipinos to visit and travel here in Bohol,” Governor Arthur Yap said during Monday’s Laging Handa public briefing.
But the governor stressed that would-be travelers are required to submit a negative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result conducted 72 hours prior to travel and confirmed booking at tourism-certified accommodation establishments and tour operators at www.tourism.bohol.gov.ph to validate the travel registration.
Tourists are only allowed to stay within the bubble for five days and on the fifth day, a confirmatory RT-PCR test is again required to allow an extended stay in Bohol. He said accredited testing centers are also available on their website to validate the authenticity of the swab test results amid the recent incident of forged swab test results in Boracay Island.
If there are no COVID-19 symptoms exhibited, tourists can still extend their stay for 14 days and that is the time when they can mingle with the locals and visit nearby towns through arranged tours at tourism-accredited operators.
“Hindi pwede yung do-it-yourself (travel) dahil nagtatravel ka sa tourism bubble ngayon (Do-it-yourself travel is not allowed because they are traveling under a tourism bubble at this time),” the governor stressed. “Kung may pupuntahan silang mga tourism sites pre-selected kasi hindi naman lahat ng mga sites kakayanin nila yung preparations (If they will go to some tourism sites, those are pre-selected because not all sites are ready for the preparations).
“Dinadahan-dahan namin (we are taking it slowly). Kapag accredited na sila, napakita nila na kakayanin nila yung safety protocols then, isasama natin sila sa mga accredited tours (Once they are accredited and they were able to prove that they can operate under the safety protocols then, we will include them in the accredited tours),” he added.
Located in the southernmost part of Bohol, Panglao is approximately 18 kilometers away from the province’s capital Tagbilaran City. According to the Bohol tourism office, a half-day tour on the island offers the white sand beach in the marine-rich Alona for a swim, a visit to a local shell museum, as well as heritage sites on the island.
Panglao is also a go-to place for diving and snorkeling for professionals and enthusiasts. But under a new local ordinance, Panglao jetty port will now serve as the main gateway for divers and snorkelers. Entry and exit points in the barangays of Tawa, Libaong, Danao, Tangnan, and Doljo are now closed, the Panglao municipal government told the Manila Bulletin.
To recall, the province of Bohol first reopened to “controlled” groups, catering only to events like weddings, family reunions, trainings, team-building activities, or any of those under the meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibits (MICE) type of events last November 15.
Yap also said the decision to reopen Bohol for leisure travel is a result of the successful conduct of the largest government-organized travel event in Panglao Island last September.
Also a tourism-dependent industry, he said the losses incurred in the province by the pandemic is now estimated in billions of pesos, with more than 220,000 tourism workers who lost their jobs, and Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) operators and entrepreneurs who have been affected.
“Seventy percent of our economy is dependent on tourism,” the governor stressed.
Panglao Island, which is considered as the top tourist destination in Bohol for its diving sites, recorded 1.5 to 1.6 million tourists in 2019.
It can take in an average of 3,000 tourists per day.
Last week, the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) organized a familiarization trip for MICE and tour operators, along with select media, to inspect the readiness of the province for its expanded reopening.