THE WARY WELCOME
Bohol tourism reopens, with grit and a prayer, for MICE, family reunions
M ORE tourism destinations are finally reopening for business, as stakeholders and local government units try to restart their economies.
Starting November 15, the province of Bohol began accepting tourists specifically attending Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions ( MICE) events, and family gatherings such as weddings and reunions, according to Executive Order 53 signed by the province’s governor Arthur C. Yap on November 13.
Overall, the move of the provincial government was cheered by its stakeholders, many of whom had to close down due to travel restrictions within the country.
Local carriers warmly received the news by relaunching flights to the province, which will land visitors at the newly built Panglao International Airport.
Due to the success of the Philippine Travel Exchange (Phitex) held on Panglao Island last September, Yap said he was looking at Bohol “as a MICE niche…[which] will help create more jobs for locals. You have 100 rooms in a hotel [ booked for an event], that’s equivalent to 100 jobs.”
For her part, Tourism Promotions Board COO Ma. Anthonette C. Velasco-allones said, “The reopening of Bohol to MICE events brings to life the positive lessons we have drawn from the hybrid Phitex event last September, and central to that is the value of collaborative partnership among stakeholders, social actors, and the government.”
She added, “We took the courage to stage Phitex amid a pandemic in the hope that it will help write the playbook for MICE. And we congratulate Governor Yap for finally making it happen.” Phitex was spearheaded by the TPB, the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism.
Aside from Bohol, destinations now open to tourists from other parts of the country include Boracay Island; El Nido and Pamalican Island in Palawan; Polillio Island in Quezon; Baguio City; the Ilocos Region; Batangas; Cavite; as well as the Clark and Subic free ports in Central Luzon.
TO regain Bohol’s attraction as a tourism destination, the provincial government has decided to scrap the 14-day quarantine requirement on visitors, instead only requiring a negative RT-PCR test result “not earlier than 72 hours prior to the date of travel to Bohol,” according to EO 53.
Tourists staying for more than five days “must undergo a repeat RT-PCR test on the fifth day of their stay.”
To help contain any possible Covid infection brought in by outside guests, the EO also states, locals who join these MICE events, including weddings, reunions, anniversaries, birthdays and similar celebrations, “agree to be quarantined for five days and be swabbed for RT-PCR testing and that they will only be allowed to go home once a negative test result is released.”
Tourists are asked to register at tourism.bohol.gov.ph.
Leeds Trompeta, general manager of Amorita Resort, told the Businessmirror, “We welcome this development, and with our safety protocols in place we are looking forward to welcome guests from Manila.”
He added, “The requirement, however, of a minimum six persons needs careful reassessment since with the global pandemic, the MICE segment has pivoted to other platforms and most corporate accounts have decided to defer group travel of their associates and executives. Although we do get queries for social events like weddings, most of these are for next year on a very tentative reservation.”
He said, “We believe that FIT [free independent travel] should be given equal attention with the proper health and safety protocols in place to calibrate the revival of tourism in Bohol. Likewise our destination has the unique advantage of having a new international airport that is just five minutes away from our resort and Alona Beach.”
Carriers return to Bohol
THE announcement of the Bohol LGU was the spark needed for carriers to renew their ties to the province.
Pioneering flag carrier Philippine Airlines said it supports the government’s campaign to restore and rejuvenate domestic tourism. It resumes its commercial flights between Manila and Bohol beginning November 22 with round-trip flights every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Passengers need to show a confirmed booking at a Dot-accredited hotel before departure. They are also supposed to book with only accredited tour operators and guides, who will bring them on itineraries pre-approved by the LGU.
For its part, Airasia Philippines is offering 50- percent off on airfare from Manila to Bohol beginning December 1. In a news statement, Airasia Philippines CEO Ricky Isla said, “We are pleased to be able to reopen our services to and from Bohol for both essential and leisure travelers. We hope that the resumption of connectivity between both regions will further assist local businesses and enterprises in Bohol. Airasia will continue to support the national and local governments in their efforts to jumpstart the travel and tourism industries in the Philippines.”
Cebu Pacific is likewise offering a promotional airfare of P99 from Manila to Bohol for travel in July-august 2021.
In 2019 visitor arrivals in Bohol reached 1.58 million, a 5.6-percent increase from 2018. Of total arrivals last year, 854,853 were domestic tourists, and 727,051 foreign tourists, as per data provided by the Department of Tourism Central Visayas regional office.
DOT thanks Red Cross
MEANWHILE, the DOT expressed its gratitude to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), led by Sen. Richard J. Gordon, for reducing the cost of its RT-PCR test to P3,300.
(See, “Red Cross to cut Covid test price to help boost tourism,” in the Businessmirror, November 19, 2020.)
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat has actively pushed for a price cap on antigen and RTPCR tests to encourage domestic travel and help restore livelihood in tourism areas. Many tourist destinations have opened up to visitors, but the high cost of testing remains a deterrent.
“Greater access and affordability of the Covid tests will mean more Filipinos can return to their hometowns, undertake travel for leisure, business, health, education or MICE, and visit family and friends,” she said in a news statement.
The RT-PCR test, currently the most accurate in determining the presence of novel coronavirus in the body, costs anywhere from P4,000 to P6,500, depending on the medical facility and quickness of results.
The DOT chief, however, called on travelers to be responsible and keep tourism safe by complying with health and safety protocols imposed by the Inter-agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and LGUS of the tourism destinations they are visiting.