OUR CHILDHOOD DISNEYLAND FANTASY, enables us to conjure an image of the lowly woodcutter Ali Baba saying the magic words “Open Sesame” and the cave opens- exposing the treasures inside -stolen by the Forty Thieves.
Except for the “stolen part”, the analogy stops as we see Sec. Ed Ano of the DILG and Tourism Secretary Berna Puyat being Ali Baba -as they visited Bohol recently- and apparently hinted the magic words that could open Bohol’s treasure- the tourism industry- for all to benefit from again.
“Open Sesame” is merited because the pandemic here is relatively contained and Bohol has always been among the top tourist picks for many years, in the first place.
But when exactly will Bohol Tourism be opened? Like suitor and the object of his desire- both must mutually agree that they are now a couple- representing Bohol and the incoming tourists, respectively.
The current operation of the PCR Testing laboratories here enables Bohol the bragging rights of a province capable of accepting tourists from specific countries of origin where there is also an acceptable number of recorded Covid cases.
The visit of the two key Cabinet secretaries yesterday lent some glimmer of hope to the tourism prospect of Bohol since Sec. Puyat herself made public her strong endorsement or Bohol to be a candidate of the so-called “travel bubble.”
Indeed, that is good news for tourism stakeholders who are serious in their bid to look at Bohol’s economy to bounce back.
The “Bohol Bubble” presented during their visit received full support from the Department of Tourism. But the stakeholders here should also roll their sleeves to seriously prepare what this “Bohol Bubble” can offer.
Conceptually a “travel bubble” is placing one destination inside a figurative bubble wherein it can withstand the Covid pandemic on its own. And mainly due to the less contamination in the area.
This “bubble” will likewise pinpoint sites within the island which can be considered as practically safe for visits. So once the areas, from the resorts to the side destinations can be identified, the movement of tourists will be absolutely strictly limited to these areas without making a stop in other areas along the way.
This same concept applies in looking for a “partner.” It could be a specific city abroad which also has less Covid count. and geared for a direct flight here- no stop-overs like Manila or Cebu. In a nutshell, it seems this will be the new normal in the tourism industry.
While the situation remains fluid as far as the pandemic is concerned, Bohol stakeholders should start the preparations in identifying the basic health protocols in areas chosen as part of the “bubble.” Bohol, of course, sports a distinct advantage due to our international airport which can accommodate direct flights from abroad.
If the spread of the virus is contained earlier than expected then we can expect Bohol to get a travel bubble partner sooner than later.
We are fortunate to have major resorts in Panglao whose managers are all well-grounded on how the global tourism market moves. They are now starting to do extensive training in their rank and file on how to adapt to the new normal in the tourism industry.
This would be a tedious process as everything gets changed including the cooking and preparing of food where a five-step process can extend to as high as 12-steps if only to ensure compliance of the health protocol required.
Undeniably, Bohol’s economy revolves around tourism. In fact, it is said that the problem of rebel insurgency was reduced to a great scale when people even up to the remote barangays got employed and therefore, there were lesser people in Bohol going hungry because of the jobs created by tourism.
Thousands like waiters, drivers, room boys, entertainers, tour guides, masseurs, and much other employment in the supply chain occurred- resulting in both the increase of money supply and circulation in the entire province.
Now that tourism is dead, we are aggrieved to see thousands of jobless people in Bohol. Surely, there is a need for tourism to bounce back being Bohol’s flagship industry.
What is sorely regrettable, however, is finding out that a P12 billion fund in TIEZA (amassed from travel taxes of Filipinos going abroad) – left unused over the years has disappeared. This could have been a great reserve to backstop the tourism industry in the country when it floundered as it did now.
We learned this information from Rep., Edgar Chatto, principal author of Republic Act 9593 or the Tourism Act of 2009. We heard that this huge amount was already taken out from TIEZA to fund the government’s expenditures amid the pandemic.
Although it’s worth investigating what really happened -and if such diversion is authorized by law- it can also be argued that containing Covid-19 is part and parcel of helping Tourism get back on its feet by containing the pandemic. They are a horse and carriage.
“Open Sesame”? Bohol can hardly wait, Ali Babas.