NO one can blame the tourism sector for trying very hard to do what it can to recover in the wake of the devastation created by the coronavirus to their industry. Imagine the thousands of jobs lost due to the closure or temporary closing of hundreds of business establishments in the country’s tourist spots. Imagine the thousands of families who have lost their breadwinners as a result.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat has not been remiss in coming up with plans and ideas on how to help tourism to its feet, and one of these is the Ridge to Reef program which the Department of Tourism, Region 1 and Baguio City are launching this week.
‘The choice of Baguio, the summer capital of the country, as the first local tourist destination to try this experimental “travel bubble” is a good decision…’
“The country’s summer capital and Region 1 have been designated as pilot areas for the gradual reopening of tourism with a maximum of 200 visitors per day. Residents of the region will be allowed to visit Baguio, subject to the minimum health standards set by the Department of Health. Restarting tourism is our priority. Kailangan pong magkaroon na ng mga trabaho ang mga nawalan ng trabaho,” she said. With Baguio’s gradual reopening, the DOT through the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) committed to fund relevant projects including the V.I.S.I.T.A., or the Visitors Information and Tourist Assistance app to manage the arrivals of tourists in the city.
The choice of Baguio, the summer capital of the country, as the first local tourist destination to try this experimental “travel bubble” is a good decision mainly because Mayor Benjamin Magalong and the rest of local officials there have done very well in containing the spread of COVID-19. In fact, Malacañang has designated Magalong to be the mentor of other local officials in the field of contact tracing and other interventions to fight the pathogen.
Region 1, too, is a good partner for Baguio because it is near the city and has few cases of COVID-19 infections. Initially, there will be 200 local tourists from Region 1 who will visit Baguio on a guided tour. The usual do-if-yourself, free-range visits of the summer capital will have to be forgotten for now.
The idea of a tourism bubble began in Australia and New Zealand last May when the two countries announced one of the first travel partnerships during the pandemic. The Trans-Tasman bubble would allow citizens of each country to travel to the other without a quarantine or a test, but a COVID-19 outbreak in the Australian state of Victoria put the plan on hold.
The Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania also tried the travel bubble experiment, along with Hungary and Slovenia, with Italy and Germany and later, the UK, opening borders to travelers inside the European Union. All these were short-lived. In Asia, Thailand thought of starting the same arrangement with Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, but a surge in infections quickly scuttled these plans.
It is against this backdrop that we optimistically wish that Secretary Puyat, Mayor Magalong and the political and business leaders of Region 1 would succeed in their Ridge to Reef project.
Perhaps if the countries of Europe and Australia-Pacific regions failed, it can be successful on a smaller scale such as Baguio-Region 1.