The Department of Tourism is seeking to advance full vaccination of 40,000 tourism workers in the island of Boracay and some 70,000 tourism stakeholders from Bohol to immediately reignite interest to travel among Filipinos.
During a forum Friday organized by the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC), Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat said the request is still pending before the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
“We’ve asked Secretary (Charlie) Galvez if they can allow Boracay and Bohol tourism workers to be vaccinated ahead of others. Anyway, we are already starting with A4, do that we could also accept fully vaccinated (visitors) without vaccine,” she said.
At the same forum, Puyat said the government cannot predict when the tourism industry return to the pre-pandemic levels.
“We can’t answer that because of the volatility of the situation, especially with the new variant. We can’t predict when,” she said.
For Boracay, the request was 80,000 doses for 40,000 workers while Bohol has requested for 800,000 doses with the current supply, it has to manage with about 70,000 workers for a double dose of 140,000.
Puyat said Crimson Hotel has already donated 5,000 doses for Boracay workers and hopes for more donations to trickle in from stakeholders in the island.
There are about 170,922 tourism frontline service employees based in the recent submission of different accommodation establishments.
On top of vaccination concerns of stakeholders, the DOT said travellers are counting on the proposed Green Lane for faster and easier facilitation of travel particularly for an entire family, since the DOT has also requested travel access for people aged 65 above and those 18 below who are fully vaccinated.
The Green Lane will facilitate the entry of foreign visitors who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, as part of the national government’s effort to reopen the economy.
Puyat was optimistic that the Green Lane will pave the way for the reopening of tourist destinations to leisure travelers who are now fully vaccinated while giving back lost livelihood to displaced tourism workers.
The DOT, she added, also advocates the use of a unified travel pass or vaccination card which will be in the form of a crypto code.
“We decided that since some people find ways to circumvent the system like the reported forged swab results, we have to use a system that will believe cannot be forged or faked which is the crypto code,” Puyat said.
She added that the DOT continues to cooperate with the International Air Travel Association (IATA) for travel updates and on how best to manage travel across countries given the current state of global tourism.
“They’re still trying to figure out also the authentication of vaccine certificates. We are closely working with them,” Puyat said.
The tourism industry was one of hardest hit sectors since the President Duterte placed the country on lockdown in a bid to stop the spread or local transmission of the deadly COVID-19 disease.
The government described the first lockdown rule as “enhanced community quarantine” that includes strict home quarantine in all households, and suspension of air travel and other public transportation.
“The Philippines was not the only one affected, but the whole world,” said Puyat.
But according to Puyat, her department keeps fighting for and continues its campaign for the reopening of the tourism industry and to remove age restrictions for travel.
“That’s what we are doing and we fought for that,” she said.
Puyat said the department is open to the idea that local government units must allow local visitors who are fully vaccinated to enter tourist destination.
But she said the problem that the LGUs or the authorities usually encounter when it comes to the required travel health certificates (such as negative swab test result) were the authenticity of such requirement due to the “existence” of the so-called ‘Recto University”, where faked documents are being manufactured.
“How to authenticate (the document) if it is real or not? There are fake documents. That’s the problem,” said Puyat, citing numerous reports of individuals caught tampering and forging travel requirement certificates and other health clearances.
Puyat also disclosed that in the latest survey conducted by the agency, the biggest concern of travelers is the “certified disinfecting healthy protocols” of the place or destinations.
At present, the Tourism department is strictly monitoring staycation hotels and other accommodation establishments (AEs) following the reopening of AEs in General Community Quarantine areas at up to 30% of venue capacity under strict health and safety guidelines.
A recent resolution issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force stated that it will no longer require guests to undergo a COVID-19 test following the recommendation of health experts that strict symptoms screening and observance of minimum public health standards are sufficient measures for staycation guests.
“While we understand that strict health and safety protocols need to remain in place, DOT is happy with this development. This will bring back significant revenue especially to small hotels and private resorts in GCQ areas during the summer season. We continue to issue the reminder that the safety of guests, residents and host communities should never be compromised,” Puyat said.
In areas under Modified GCQ (MGCQ), AEs may accommodate leisure guests without the same-household requirement and without restriction as to the venue capacity, provided that minimum public health standards are observed.
However, Puyat said that in all cases, the IATF age restrictions will be strictly observed; only guests aged 18 to 65 years old will be allowed to check in.
“We would have wanted to allow guests of all ages to be accommodated, knowing that when Filipinos go on vacation, we travel as a family. However, in every decision concerning the safe resumption of tourism during this pandemic, the DOT always puts premium to what our health experts recommend”, said Puyat.
The tourism chief reiterated that isolation or quarantine hotels are not allowed to accommodate leisure or staycation guests. The IATF resolution likewise states that the local government units with jurisdiction over the AEs shall strictly monitor their compliance with minimum public health standards.
Early this year, the IATF approved the DOT’s proposal to include more tourism workers under the A4 vaccination priority list, in addition to those working in quarantine hotels and airports. Those under A4 include workers from the transport sector and the food, restaurant and accommodation enterprises.
To date, more than 2,500 employees of quarantine hotels nationwide have been successfully inoculated against the COVID-19 virus.