From a strictly point-to-point travel bubble policy, popular destination Coron, Palawan is gearing up to welcome local travelers back on its shores and jumpstart domestic tourism this month.
In a recent executive order released by the municipal office, the Coron local government unit (LGU) said the tourist island will reopen for tourism activities starting Nov. 15.
As part of Coron's preparation ahead of its reopening, the Department of Tourism (DOT)-MIMAROPA held a product audit to help tourism establishments and industry workers get back on their feet.
Representatives from the Philippine Tour Operators Association, Inc. (PHILTOA), National Association of Independent Travel Agencies (NAITAS), and Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA), and other tourism agencies and stakeholders attended the five-day event to assess the health and safety measures being implemented in Coron’s key destinations.
During a dialogue to cap off the audit, Sangguniang Bayan Member and Committee Chair on Tourism Rica Reyes-Gaw admitted that there are still other challenges and services that need to be addressed and improved.
"Currently, I think, we are on 7 kasi maraming pa kaming kailangang baguhin at ayusin (because we still have a lot to improve) before the Nov. 15 reopening," Gaw told the participants, giving emphasis on road and infrastructure projects that could affect the mobility of tourists.
Negative COVID test still a must
Gaw added that the Coron LGU is mulling to simplify its existing guidelines and stringent protocols to encourage more tourists to visit the island and help in the gradual and safe revival of the tourism industry.
However, she emphasized that Coron will continue to impose a "test before travel" policy for all inbound tourists.
"Currently, there are still no plans to scrap the negative RT-PCR test result. As much as we want to streamline the protocols for our tourists, we also have to protect our kababayans not only their health amid COVID, but also their mental acceptance of the arrival of tourists," Gaw explained.
Only fully vaccinated travelers will also be allowed entry to the island. One is considered fully vaccinated 15 days after a one-dose vaccine or after the second shot of a two-dose vaccine.
Unvaccinated minors will be permitted but should be accompanied by their parents or legal guardians who have already completed their COVID-19 jabs.
"We will look at the data on the effect of our Nov. 15 opening and maybe in a couple of months, we can further ease the protocols," Gaw added.
Continuous vaccine rollout
Coron Municipal Senior Tourism Operations Officer Kim Ablaña said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the municipality is low, while 39.06 percent of its entire population is now completely inoculated.
In the tourism sector, Ablaña said 95 percent of workers in the industry have so far received their jabs through the vaccination program launched by the DOT and the Coron LGU.
A total of 7,778 tourism workers were displaced due to the ongoing pandemic. These include 1,077 boat operators and crew, 2,599 accommodation staff, 375 restaurant staff, 350 diving sector, 127 wellness and massage staff, 917 tour guides, 525 travel and tour operators, 1,500 tricycle operators and drivers, 188 van drivers and operators, and 120 souvenir shops.
To cushion the impact of the health crisis, the DOT, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the local government has rolled out various subsidy and livelihood programs to provide financial assistance for the affected tourism workers.
Aside from being fully vaccinated, tourists planning to travel to Coron will be required to register through the S-PASS where they will submit the needed documents — a government identification card, vaccination card, negative RT-PCR test result, vaccination card, travel itinerary, and confirmed hotel, tour, or diving booking.
A QR-code tourist ID application together with the required travel documents must also be submitted through Coron's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) email at firstname.lastname@example.org to secure a certificate of coordination.
Ablaña said these protocols are applicable until December this year as the LGU will assess again whether to retain or scrap other travel requirements.
Last September 22, Coron has reopened to tourists under a point-to-point or travel bubble arrangement. It was supposed to accept again domestic tourists last August 1 but Metro Manila was placed anew under lockdown.
Coron comprises the Busuanga Island, Coron Island, and 50 other islets—all of which are separate from the main Palawan island.
It is one of Palawan's most popular beach and island destinations for its pristine clear waters, diving spots, unique limestone formations, and a more peaceful and laidback ambiance.
To encourage more tourists to travel again, the DOT, through the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), recently partnered with the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) to fully subsidize the cost of the RT-PCR tests for qualified local tourists.