MANILA, Feb 10 (Mabuhay) — Philippine destinations such as Boracay, Palawan, Cebu and Bohol continue to capture the interest of the foreign market even after two years of closure to international travelers.

“As far as the inquiries are concerned, (the preferred destinations) are still the major staples of the Philippines such as Boracay, Palawan, Cebu, and Bohol,” Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) President Jose Clemente III said at the virtual Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum Wednesday.

Starting February 10, the Philippines will accept fully vaccinated tourists from 157 visa-free countries.

Since last week, most of the demands had been coming from North America, Europe, and some from the Middle East.

Clemente said this may be driven by the “liberal travel restrictions” in these regions, which is opposite to the stricter protocols implemented in Omicron-hit Asia.

“If you compare all of the travel restrictions either incoming or outgoing, Asia seems to have the toughest set of protocols as far as people coming in or going out. Our problem actually is if people are allowed to go out of their countries, what protocols or guidelines would they have going back from the Philippines? So that’s what hampers travel,” he said.

Clemente is hopeful Asian countries would soon loosen up their pandemic restrictions once they see a downward trend in Omicron cases.

“Long-haul markets, yes, we’ll be seeing it now. Asian, medium-haul markets, short-haul markets, maybe a few more months before they really start considering,” he said.

With the demand for new tourism products and new travel ideas, Clemente said TCP is working to produce seven to 21-day long programs that would cater the long-haul markets, especially Europe.

But the executive said this could still take time because they would have to check with various suppliers who were severely hit by the pandemic over the past two years.

“Maraming restart na mangyayari (There would be a lot of restart that would take place) but that said, the confidence now is there in the Philippines. Parang hindi nawala ‘yong confidence nila in the Philippines to visit and, in some cases, to come back,” he said.

Among those allowed to enter starting February 10 are travelers from South Korea, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, United Kingdom, United States, and Germany– some of the Philippines’ top source markets.

Fully vaccinated Filipino nationals and foreign tourists are also exempt from the 5,000-passenger arrivals cap set by the Department of Transportation and its One-Stop-Shop, which only applies to unvaccinated travelers.

‘On the right path and ready’

In the same forum, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat reiterated the Philippines’ readiness to accept foreign tourists, two years since the country virtually closed its borders.

“We’ve already witnessed the successful reopenings of our most popular tourism sites to locals. With the opening to international travelers starting tomorrow, we are eager to show the world that we are ready and that we can keep pace, especially with our Asean neighbors who are taking similar steps towards reopening their borders,” she said.

She is also optimistic about the “healthy rebound” of tourism, citing the high vaccination rate among tourism workers, the Philippines’ internationally-accepted public health safeguards, and the 79 tourism circuits developed for the new normal.

As of February 4, at least 92.51 percent or 317, 892 out of 349, 534 tourism workers have received their Covid-19 jabs.

At least 76 quarantine hotels have also submitted a Letter of Intent to shift to regular hotels and cater to leisure tourists.

Clemente, for his part, said the public can rest assured that both the government and the industry stakeholders had been preparing for this reopening for a long time.

“My analogy is always that we’re restarting an engine that has been unused for the past two years and it will take a lot of effort to get it running smoothly again,” he said.

“Rest assured that we continue to look at the various scenarios to come up with solutions to possible hitches that may happen during the reopening but we are confident that we are now on the right path and we see the light at the end of the road,” he added. (MNS)

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