Bohol beaches empty a month after welcoming local tourists
TAGBILARAN CITY—Last week, French couple Claude and Nadine Spring felt like they owned a piece of paradise on Panglao Island in Bohol province as they sunbathed on the white sand beach and swam in clear blue waters all by themselves.
The Springs were the only guests at Barangay Bolod in Panglao even if the province had already allowed the resumption of all tourism businesses on June 21.
The directive, however, covered only local tourists and stranded foreigners like the Springs who could not go home to France because of travel restrictions and lack of commercial flights due to the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Domestic and international tourists were still not allowed to enter Bohol, forcing its tourism industry to rely on its 1.3 million residents.
But locals had opted to stay indoors out of fear of catching the virus. As of July 24, Bohol had recorded 72 cases of COVID-19, including three deaths.
Dr. Doloreich Dumaluan, director of Panglao Island Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said locals also had to prioritize food and medicines instead of recreational activities.
“No guests are coming. There are no flights, no boats. No one is coming,” he said.
Alona Beach, a popular tourist destination in Panglao, has been desolate, and businesses on the island, the tourism jewel of Bohol, are hurting.
A resort operator said she was worried about paying her mortgage and rentals as the province dealt with the tourism slump. In January, she spent more than half her income renovating her cottages in preparation for the influx of tourists who usually flocked to Panglao during summer.
But the pandemic happened, forcing officials to suspend travel to Bohol.
“I didn’t expect this pandemic to come,” she said, adding that she was not able to save anything to tide things over. To make matters worse, she did not receive any help from the government, she said.
Gov. Arthur Yap had said Bohol would not reopen to tourists from other provinces until it could assure their safety as well as that of residents.
Yap said the provincial government lost at least P1.014 billion when Panglao Island was closed to tourists for four months. He said the local tourism industry also lost P290 million in monthly dine-in revenues.
According to Yap, it would take a “robust system” of RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) testing and contact tracing for both visitors and residents before authorities would gain confidence to reopen the tourism industry.
As of July 13, the Panglao tourism office had allowed 21 hotels and inns, 17 bars and restaurants, and four dive shops to operate.
But Dumaluan said it would take a year or two before tourism activities would go back to normal. He urged the provincial government to not just focus on tourism but also on food and agriculture to feed Boholanos.
Panglao Mayor Leonila Paredes-Montero said Bohol had been tested many times, citing the 2013 earthquake that destroyed the province’s heritage churches and infrastructure, and the 2017 clash between government troops and Abu Sayyaf bandits. The province and its people managed to recover from these, she added.
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