(Updates government statement, headline)
Manila, Sep 7 (efe-epa).- The Philippines plans to gradually reactivate domestic tourism in October but is not expecting the full resumption of international tourism until the middle of next year, a spokeswoman for the Department of Tourism told EFE on Monday.
“The Philippines continues to explore ways on how to welcome visitors in a safe and gradual manner, in spite of the current situation, anticipating that we will soon be opening our doors to visitors once travel restrictions are lifted,” the statement said.
In an earlier statement, spokeswoman Czarina Zara-Loyola had said the department expected international visitors “when other countries lift border controls” in the second half of 2021.
Rather than fully opening up to foreign visitors, the Philippines plans to create travel bubbles with countries in the region, which have generally been successful in containing COVID-19.
The Philippines has imposed one of the longest and strictest quarantines in the world, which has particularly affected the tourism, transport and aviation sectors, as not only the country’s borders are closed, but movement between provinces is also restricted.
To offset the losses in a sector that in 2019 came to represent 11 percent of GDP, the Department of Tourism plans the gradual reopening of domestic tourism in the last quarter of the year, at a time when the pandemic is increasingly under control , with the exception of Manila.
“National tourism is the backbone of the industry. The Department of Tourism expects, with the support of local governments, its gradual activation from the last quarter of this year until the first six months of 2021,” said Zara-Loyola.
For now, the authorities contemplate activating tourist corridors by regions “in strict compliance with the safety and health protocols.”
Last week it was announced that Baguio, some 250 kilometers north of Manila, will be opened to visitors from the neighboring provinces, who will be able to enjoy the cool temperature and green landscapes of that inner-city in which many Filipinos have second homes.
The island of Boracay, the main tourist destination in the country, has also partially opened, but only to travelers from other neighboring islands of the Visayas region, something that El Nido, on the island of Palawan, also hopes to do, starting on Sep. 15.
Currently, these popular destinations will not be opened to the inhabitants of Manila and its surroundings, the main epicenter of COVID-19 with more than half of the country’s cases and where a quarter of the Philippine population is concentrated.
In 2019, the Philippines received a record 8.2 million foreign tourists, with South Korea, China and the United States as the main source countries, a figure that this year has fallen by 73 percent due to the border closure imposed in mid-March. EFE