Ilocos Norte welcomes tourists outside ‘bubble’
LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte, Philippines — The tourism industry of Ilocos Norte province would usually look forward to the summer season beginning in March of every year when thousands of tourists would flock to the province’s famed beaches and other natural attractions.
But few visitors came even as the province began accepting tourists in September last year under its “travel bubble” involving the cities and provinces within the Ilocos region and Baguio City.
Local tourism stakeholders are hoping this will change with the decision of the provincial government on March 4 to further ease travel protocols and open its tourism industry to visitors outside the Ilocos region, scrapping most of the previously required travel documents.
Negative test required
But a negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result for COVID-19 taken 72 hours prior to travel, or a negative antigen test result taken upon arrival at the border, will still be required for tourists, according to the order issued by Gov. Matthew Marcos Manotoc.
Manotoc, at a March 3 press briefing, acknowledged that even if Ilocos Norte was among the first provinces in the country to open its tourism industry last year, its requirement remained “quite strict,” which was attributed to the 99-percent drop in arrivals in 2020.
Before the coronavirus pandemic struck in March last year, the Ilocos Norte tourism office had projected to welcome 4.6 million day visitors in 2020, which was 17.95-percent higher than its recorded arrival in 2019. By the end of 2020, the province only had 7,800 visitors, most recorded in January and February while 608 came after the “travel bubble” was created.
The local tourism industry lost around P17 billion in potential income in 2020 while 3,500 workers were displaced, said Aianree Raquel, provincial tourism officer.
Around 330 accommodations in the province had to permanently close or temporarily shut down, records from the provincial tourism office showed.
Andrea Causo, one of the resort operators in the coastal town of Pagudpud, said they would still have to rely on the “potential of local residents” to revive Ilocos Norte’s ailing tourism industry.
Causo said that after their facilities reopened in September, many prospective visitors did not push through with their bookings because of “burdensome” travel documents and “costly” travel packages.
“The 200 resort and accommodation operators in Pagudpud are still crying for help even as the tourism industry already opened,” Causo told the Inquirer on March 6.
Some of these tourism-related establishments have not received a single guest since the pandemic began last year, she added.
Raquel noted that local residents who were allowed to visit tourist sites in the province starting in June last year have shown preference for outdoor sites. “It [might be] considered as a coping mechanism for Ilocos Norte residents after the lockdown,” she surmised.
With the easing of restrictions, Causo said they looked forward to receiving more tourists from outside the region.
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