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Two-region ‘travel bubble’ seen in Luzon

/ 04:20 AM September 23, 2020

TOURIST COPS Members of a unit of the Baguio City police, garbed in traditional G-string and tapis (wraparound skirt), are trained to assist tourists as the summer capital prepares to resume leisure activities. —VINCENT CABREZA

BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — The first tourism corridor that grants residents access to selected destinations within the borders of this city and the provinces of the Ilocos region may evolve into a two-region “travel bubble” to include the Cordillera.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat on Tuesday discussed this possibility with Mayor Benjamin Magalong and the governors and mayors of Benguet and Ifugao provinces during the launch of the “Ridge and Reef Travel Corridor,” and the city’s digital travel and surveillance system.

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The strategy was cleared by the National Task Force Against COVID-19 last week, prompting a test run on the reopening of community tourism before this would be replicated by other local governments.

Puyat said the government’s immediate task was “to jumpstart the local tourism industry [and] allow it to become the major driver for socioeconomic growth once more,” after the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent quarantine shut all forms of leisure in the last six months.

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A travel corridor is “a zone between territories that have demonstrated the capacity to effectively control the spread of COVID-19,” Puyat said, adding that the strategy allows residents of participating towns to travel safely to tourist spots while safeguarding public health.

Health facilities

But communities must first be willing to take back visitors and have sufficient health facilities to support the influx so they would have the confidence to tour their areas, she said.

According to Puyat, these criteria fit Baguio and the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Pangasinan.

“The Ridge and Reef Travel Corridor will be closely monitored and evaluated,” said Vivencio Dizon, task force deputy chief implementer, during a meeting here on Sept. 19.
Baguio’s decision to accept tourists has drawn criticism from its Cordillera neighbors.

But after a meeting on Monday, officials of Benguet and Ifugao said some towns might be ready to accept guests wanting to visit farms in Atok, Tublay and Sablan towns, or climb mountains in the mining town of Itogon, all in Benguet.

Puyat said the Department of Tourism was also proposing the “tourism bubble” strategy for Western Visayas and Mindanao.

No tourists yet

No tourists from the Ilocos region entered Baguio for the ceremonial launch of the travel corridor on Tuesday. Only those who pass screening and medical examinations will be allowed on Oct. 1 to give the Ilocos provinces time to synchronize their digital systems with the Visitors’ Information and Travel Assistance (Visita) platform.

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Using Visita, leisure travelers must secure travel packages when they apply for a trip to Baguio or the Ilocos region and must follow itineraries set by the host governments, “so tourists cannot just go anywhere,” Magalong said.

WHITE ROCK Tourist spots in Ilocos Norte, like Burgos town’s Kapurpurawan rock formation, will be opened to visitors in October as part of the tourism corridor between the Ilocos region and Baguio City. Kapurpurawan, named after the white rock formation in the area, features outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking. —WILLIE LOMIBAO

Baguio set a ceiling of 200 tourists a day, while the Ilocos provinces decided to experiment with 50 a day.

The number of visitors will fluctuate depending on the health situation and may be reduced or increased, or stopped all together, he added.

The towns of Manaoag, Alaminos and Bolinao, all in Pangasinan, Vigan City, a World Heritage Site, and Caoayan town in Ilocos Sur are taking part in the travel corridor.La Union has been open to Ilocos region tourists since it was placed under moderate risk quarantine, but the beaches of San Juan, Bauang and San Gabriel towns are preparing to take in Baguio tourists, also in October, said Gov. Francisco Emmanuel Ortega III.

Ilocos Norte Gov. Matthew Manotoc said Pagudpud town, with its white sand beaches, “hopes to welcome tourists even for a long stay” starting Oct. 1.

Tour packages that offer swimming, surfing and even bicycle tours around Ilocos Norte have been prepared for the towns of Badoc, Currimao, Paoay, Pasuquin, Burgos, Pagudpud, Adams, Sarrat and Vintar, and the cities of Batac and Laoag, Manotoc said.

With a report from Jerome Aning

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, Ilocos region travel bubble, Ilocos tourism
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