Cost of virus test slows down Batangas dive tourism
BATANGAS — The number of tourists in the diving site of Anilao in Mabini, Batangas, has yet to pick up, two months after the town, with low to zero new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection, eased its border rules to draw visitors.
Sylvia Marasigan, provincial tourism director, said one factor driving away divers was the cost of the COVID-19 test, aside from the local government’s requirement to prebook tourists’ stay in hotels or resorts there.
In response, the local government has agreed to lower the cost of an antigen test from P1,500 to P1,000 for tourists.
An antigen test, done similarly as with the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) by swabbing, helps screen infected people although it might not be as accurate for asymptomatic patients. It is cheaper than the RT-PCR and gives out results in minutes.
Mayor Noel Luistro said the municipality would shoulder the cost of testing resort employees, as well as boatmen and guides.
‘Peace of mind’
In a recent tourism recovery forum, Luistro said close to 2,000 “heads of the family” had lost their jobs during the pandemic.
“[The COVID-19 test] is an additional expense, say for a group of 11 divers, that’s an additional P11,000 right away,” said Efren Jake Calangi, president of the Resort Owners Association of Mabini, on Monday.
Calangi said it was also an extra burden to resort owners since guests rightfully demanded that the employees attending to them were tested, too.
“The question guests ask us is: ‘We have [a negative test result] but how about your staff?’ That’s why we had been pushing for [the free testing of employees] to give [tourists] the peace of mind they won’t catch the virus here,” he said.
Calangi said his group welcomed the local government’s assistance as resort owners, although raring to reopen, had been following the rules by sending guests back to Mabini’s entry point if they walked in without getting tested.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat in the same forum said Batangas province recorded an 82.4-percent decline in tourist arrivals due to Taal Volcano’s eruption in January, the pandemic lockdown and the strong typhoons in October and November.
In 2019, Batangas recorded 311,854 visitors, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said.
The pandemic also canceled 93 tourism projects funded by the DOT-Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) region.
Of this number, 21 projects were supposed to be in Batangas, such as the construction of floating docks in Anilao, a bay walk in Matabungkay Beach in Lian town, and tourist help desks, Marasigan said. INQ
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