Fears linger as Bohol looks to reopen borders

Having remained Covid-19-free thus far due to its stringent lockdown measures, Bohol is cautious about reopening and will have to ensure proper health and safety protocols to maintain its enviable reputation.

Speaking at a webinar run by Tourism Congress of the Philippines last Tuesday, Allen Christian Varquez, president, Bohol Association of Hotels, Resorts and Restaurants (BAHRR), observed that the locals fear that the virus might seep in when borders are opened, especially in high-risk Cebu.

Covid-free Bohol looks to implement strict measures on incoming tourists as it eyes reopening of borders; aerial view of Chocolate Hills Complex, a major tourist hub in Carmen, Bohol pictured

He added that “most accommodations are not keen on reopening mainly because they don’t expect to get the same volume of guests as before”, since tourists generally are still scared of travelling.

While metro Manila, Cebu City and Laguna remain under modified enhanced community quarantine until May 31 as these areas are categorised as high-risk, Bohol and other destinations have been placed on general community quarantine (a relaxed quarantine). Hotel openings and tourism activities are not allowed in all these areas until May 30.

Bohol governor Arthur Yap, who implemented a curfew, wearing of face masks and other measures as part of the extreme community quarantine for Bohol two months ago, said that authorities are looking to quell Covid-19 fears among locals and tourists through proper health, medical and safety protocols being developed with the industry.

Yap also highlighted the need to enforce Covid-19 testing on incoming visitors to prevent a virus breakout, adding that “there are critical border issues that we need to have an agreement on”.

Prior to the Philippines’ lockdown, Bohol was accessible through air services from various destinations as well as direct ferry services from Cebu, Dumaguete and Cagayan de Oro, among others.

Yvonne Villacorte, general manager, Best Western Plus The Ivy Wall Resort-Panglao, said the new guidelines for the hospitality industry being developed by the governor alongside BAHRR and other tourism-related associations will help assure locals and tourists that the province remains safe.

Villacorte added that since most locals don’t want to go out even in this month of festivals, normally a peak season in the province, there would be a better chance of reviving business if Cebu and Manila were reopened.

Lucas Nunag, president, Bohol Provincial Tourism Council, said that as the industry can write off 2020, tourism players in Bohol should use this downtime to prepare for tourism rebound.

Lourdes Sultan, president, Bohol Federation of Travel and Tour Operators, said that in preparation for reopening Bohol, the Department of Tourism should work on training and re-tooling tour guides, as well as providing financial assistance to travel players, especially freelance tour guides who were unable to access the wage subsidies.

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