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Puerto Galera reopens, but weekend stays still discouraged

QUICK BREAK Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro, which offers snorkeling, dive sites and beach resorts, has become a destination of choice for weekend breaks, especially by families and groups of friends from Metro Manila and provinces in Calabarzon region. —PHOTO COURTESY OF ORIENTAL MINDORO TOURISM OFFICE

CITY OF CALAPAN, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines — The tourist town of Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro province is accepting visitors again, while another popular destination, El Nido in Palawan, is on a “dry run” for reopening.

Tourism in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) region has taken a plunge amid the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

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Dhon Stepherson Calda, Oriental Mindoro tourism officer, said Puerto Galera was expecting its first group of visitors from Batangas province to arrive on Aug. 19 and 20, based on the prebooking and online system set up for tourists.

They will be the first to reach the resort town since March, when the coronavirus pandemic closed island borders and restricted movement only to essential travel.

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Operators of hotels, dive shops and bars, and other business owners welcomed the municipal government’s initiative but with tempered enthusiasm because of strict health and security protocols.

“[There are] many requirements [for tourists, like] swab tests. We [also] still have the alcohol ban and 10 p.m. curfew,” said Dutch expatriate Kees Koornstra, whose plan to open up a café was delayed by the pandemic.

30-year industry

According to the Department of Health, Oriental Mindoro had the highest number of active cases in Mimaropa, with 85 as of Aug. 15. Palawan was second with 32.

Days after Puerto Galera reopened on Aug. 15, word got around that 80 Chinese tourists arrived in a resort, but the report was denied by Mayor Rocky Ilagan.

“It’s not true. But if it were, I’d be the first to be happy about it,” he said on Monday. “You see, other [agricultural] towns are already getting back to ‘normal,’ but here [in Puerto Galera], there’s no income for the people who have gotten so used to tourism for the last 30 years.”

The town, he said, would still not accept visitors from abroad and would limit arrivals to domestic travelers.

Ilagan, in an executive order, required visitors to show proof of recent test showing they were negative for COVID-19. They must also show a “point-to-point” travel from their place of origin to their accommodation.

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Once on the island, tourists are not allowed to take public transportation, but only hotel­-provided vehicles, to visit sites and beaches.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) issued certificates of authority to operate to about 40 Puerto Galera establishments, but only 20 have reopened.

Since Metro Manila and Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batang­as, Rizal and Quezon) region are still under stricter quarantine, the only way for tourists to enter Puerto Galera is via private vehicles.

Tourists could either leave their cars at Berberabe Port in Batangas City and from there, take the ferry to Puerto Galera, or bring their cars on a ferry from Batangas to the Calapan City port.Calda and DOT regional director Chris Morales agreed traveling at this time would be costly.

“Our target with the gradual reopening are expats (expatriates) and long-staying guests. We’re not looking at the weekend tourists, yet,” Calda said.

By long staying, he meant foreigners who have been staying at least two months in the Philippines and might want to stay from “weeks to months,” or relocate to Puerto Galera.

Calda said the town lost about P2.09 billion from March to June this year.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, Puerto Galera reopening, Tourism
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