Bicol tourism ready to reboot after losing P7.2 billion due to pandemic
LIGAO CITY, Albay, Philippines — The tourism industry in the Bicol region suffered more than P7 billion in losses as the coronavirus pandemic forced the government to restrict travel and order community lockdowns to contain the spread of the disease last year, an official of the Department of Tourism (DOT) said.
But local governments and the DOT in the region are ready to resume leisure activities as more establishments catering to tourists are reopening as quarantine restrictions are gradually eased.
“We are already 100 percent when it comes to local tourism activities but we reminded local governments to strictly observe the health protocols and hygiene measures at all times in order to curb the possible spread of COVID-19,” Fe Buela, the DOT regional director, said.
According to Buela, 547 of 900 tourism-related establishments in the region, representing 73 percent, are now open to serve visitors.
The tourist arrivals in the region last year dropped by 81 percent, or just 600,000 tourists, from the 3.5 million visitors in 2019, leading to losses reaching P7.2 billion.
The DOT, she said, has crafted a “tourism circuit development program” for Bicol to prepare for the return of tourists, especially this summer.
“Site assessment and validation is continuously being conducted so that we could offer very good valuable products and best sites for tourists,” Buela said.
Under the proposed “tourism circuit” for the region, two or more adjacent sites or attractions will be grouped to highlight economic opportunities for local governments within the same destinations.
This also involves the identification of priority sites that are tourist-ready based on attractiveness, accessibility, activities offered and amenities or facilities. Their readiness to accept visitors and the availability of health and safety protocols are also major considerations, Buela said.
The DOT is also promoting agritourism as a safer form of leisure activity due to the use of open spaces.
Jump-starting local economy
Visiting farms and other agritourism sites is “relaxing and a perfect stress buster now that we are still in [the middle of the] pandemic,” Buela said.
Officials in Albay province welcomed the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to easing travel protocols across the country.
Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara, provincial IATF chair, said that while relaxing the requirements on COVID-19 tests and other travel permits would pave the way for the recovery of local economies, health and safety protocols must not be ignored.
“It’s about time to ease the restrictions to allow the economy to recover but on the condition that the standard health protocol is strictly followed,” Bichara said.
—MICHAEL JAUCIAN AND MAR ARGUELLES
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