The doors of Bohol are set to open Tuesday, December 15, for local leisure travelers, but Governor Arthur Yap was quick to point out that visitors will only be allowed within the confines of the so-called Panglao Island “bubble”.
The provincial government and the Department of Tourism (DOT) had announced that tourism in the island province will reopen on December 15 to local travelers or Philippine-based foreigners.
But during Monday’s Laging Handa public briefing, Yap pointed out that tourism activity would have to be limited within Panglao Island for the meantime.
“Bubuksan naming yung bubble ng Panglao para sa mga turista. Pagdating dito, dun lang siya sa bubble nya sa hotel nya, sa resort nya (We will open the Panglao bubble to tourists. When the tourist arrives, he will stay in the bubble, in his hotel, in his resort),” Yap said.
This could prove to be a damper to what could be a more adventurous trip in Bohol, which offers other attractions like the Chocolate Hills, the Loboc River, and the Tarsier conservation. All are located outside the island of Panglao.
But Yap nevertheless noted that tourism activity could also be expanded to other parts of the province once Bohol’s tourism machinery proves to be stable to handle the influx of tourists.
“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 said.
Yap stressed that travelers to Bohol will be required to submit a negative result from a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test conducted 72 hours prior to travel, and confirmed booking tourism-certified accommodation establishments and tour operators at at www.tourism.bohol.gov.ph to validate the travel registration.
He also said there were no restrictions on the entry of the elderly and minor travelers to Bohol.
“We will see what will happen by tomorrow (December 15). 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,” Yap said.
Tourists will only be allowed to stay within the Panglao bubble for five days. And if he or she chooses to stay beyond the fifth day, a confirmatory RT-PCR test will again be required.
And if the test comes back as negative, tourists could extend their stay for 14 days, and that would also be the time when they will be allowed to 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).
Panglao is also a go-to place for diving and snorkeling professionals enthusiasts. But under a new local ordinance, the Pangalo 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, Bohol was 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 said the decision to reopen Bohol for leisure travel was a result of the successful conduct of the largest government-organized travel event in Panglao Island last September.
Yap said 70 percent of the province’s economy depended on tourism, and that losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been estimated to be in the billions of pesos with more than 220,000 tourism-related workers losing their jobs.
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.