DOT Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat showed her continued support for Bohol’s tourism efforts by gracing a virtual forum of its tourism stakeholders recently.
The event was led by Bohol Governor Arthur Yap with Attorney Lucas Nunag, chairman of Bohol Tourism Council, and Director Carissa Cruz representing vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. also in attendance.
As Bohol is very eager to restart its tourism, Yap together with the province’s tourism frontliners and stakeholders has organized continuing discussions on the current realities in the war against Covid 19.
“200,000 jobs and livelihoods have been gravely affected by the pandemic. We can choose the easy path by following the restrictions, of cowering in fear and not allowing tourism to continue; but, this is not the way. Covid-19 has forced all of us to confront this issue with no answer, with no operating manual. This is a unique experience for all of us as there are always new challenges day by day. We have to continue to adapt and we have to continue to adopt these new procedures, not only to show what we can do in the new normal, but what we can present as a better normal,” stated Yap.
Yap related that Sec. Puyat has taken a special interest in helping Bohol’s tourism industry starting with holding the hybrid Philippine Travel Exchange (Phitex) in Panglao last year, and then the various promotional activities with the Tourism Promotions Board, including the visits of tour operators, media, and the funding of its traditional events’ Christmas Daygon, and Belen competition as well as the month-long Ube Festival last February.
Secretary Puyat acknowledged her support to Bohol’s tourism future by recalling that it was her third time to visit Bohol after attending the Phitex which was the first hybrid MICE event during the pandemic held last September 2020.
Puyat disclosed that Bohol is a destination for family travel. As such, the need to include senior citizens above 65 and youngsters below 18 will make family travel more meaningful.
“That’s what we, at DOT, have been pushing. Filipinos travel as a family, and we are glad that IATF has finally approved that Filipinos of all ages can travel to Bohol, subject to submitting to a negative result of an RT-PCR test.
And then for the financial assistance I think we’ve already given 10,484 workers a total of Php52,420,000, and that TPB has continually been giving financial assistance, because we really believe in Bohol,” she shared.
Governor Yap also proposed to embrace DOT’s “green lane”concept. Patterned after IATA’s Travel Pass, the green lane allows fully vaccinated individuals, including foreign tourists, to visit tourist destinations.
Puyat, however, reiterated that the concept is still under review.
“DOT proposed the green lane, but there are concerns about authenticity and uniformity, especially those coming from abroad, so we are working on this. We have a small technical working group together with the DOH, IATF, DFA, DICT and all the members, because of course we don’t want quarantine, or we want to lessen the quarantine especially for those fully vaccinated. We want to be less restrictive, but of course, we are only one member (of the IATF) and we also have to listen to the health experts” explained Puyat.
In line with preparations for its tourism opening, Bohol’s business community led by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in collaboration with the provincial tourism council, association of hotels, resorts and restaurants, and the Panglao Chamber of Commerce, launched a modest but well received campaign to raise funds from business owners associations and concerned citizens for the purchase of vaccines, as well as to increase public awareness on the need to be vaccinated.
This was done initially through an “airathon” on radio for three successive days. The group is committed to intensifying its vaccine acceptance campaign, and plans to produce a video material to encourage vaccine acceptance to be distributed throughout Bohol.
Consequently, Puyat shared the good news that the request for additional 10,000 doses of vaccines has been approved for 5,000 industry frontliners in preparation for a bigger reopening of tourism in the coming days. The vaccines are expected to arrive as early as this week.
“With these vaccines, we are assured that frontliners from accredited hotel and resort staff, transport operators, tour site and restaurant facilities will have an added protection against Covid-19,” she stated.
Puyat added that with the inoculation of tourism workers in Bohol, she is optimistic that a travel bubble between the province and destinations in Asia will be feasible.
Already, frontliners of the Bohol’s quarantine hotels have been moved to the A-1 category, first priority status on the government’s vaccination program, to facilitate an earlier return to receiving visitors.
Innovation is key
To underline Bohol’s innovative approach to its tourism thrust, Atty Nunag enumerated key marketing strategies.
“Aside from the concept of a “green zone” for Panglao Island to jumpstart and serve as a template for the gradual reopening of the country to international tourism, like what is being planned for Bali and Phuket, our tourism stakeholders have recently entered into a partnership with airlines in the effort to promote the destination. We have also mounted a “Balik sa Bohol” campaign, which was done online,” stated Nunag.
He mentioned that with the assistance from the USAID, various sectors of the industry are working on enhancing the whole brand to highlight Bohol’s natural and cultural assets to project a more active and safe destination.
Currently, there are discussions with church representatives to make heritage churches, the hub, or the anchored attractions for new or enhanced and more inclusive tourism circuits. The initiative will reinforce Bohol’s image as the country’s top eco-cultural tourist destination. Along this line they are also working on the draining of the creative sector, on how to produce culturally relevant souvenir products that reflect local heritage, showcase traditional crafts and art forms, and make use of local materials.
Nunag also recalled that since last year, when they have started gearing up for Phitex, Bohol tourism establishments have been getting ready for the eventual return of visitors by complying with the needed protocols, updating, and renewing the required government approvals, and even enhancing their facilities. Several Bohol establishments were even granted the safe travel certificate by the DOT and the World Travel and Tourism Council.