NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHRONICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION.
Bohol’s tourism stakeholders are seriously mapping out strategies in order to qualify as one of the country’s first tourist destination islands which can re-open its doors to tourists once the Covid contamination gets to its minimal level as compared to other destinations.
Allan Santos, resident manager of Bohol Beach Club, one of the pioneer resorts in Panglao told the Chronicle yesterday that “Bohol Bubble” will take initial steps on how resorts, hotels and restaurants as well as destinations can start preparing once the ports of Bohol will be declared open for tourists.
“Bohol Bubble” was presented to DOT Secretary Bernadette Puyat who arrived last Friday to assess the present situation in the province while she was strongly endorsing Bohol to be on top of the provinces which will be on the travel bubble list.
Sec. Puyat arrived here with DILG Secretary Eduardo Año to meet with local officials led by Gov. Art Yap who escorted the visiting Cabinet members to the soon-to-operate containerized RT-PCT laboratory, a pre requisite before opening the ports of Bohol.
Tourists can fly directly to the destinations using the international airports located in the regions where cases are low and well-managed, Sec. Puyat said as she explained the concept of travel bubble.
“Tourism bubble lets me think of Bohol with the local officials whose leadership can help propel tourism activities,” Sec. Puyat who had both an experience working with then Agriculture secretary Yap and then House Tourism Committee chair Representative Edgar Chatto.
Santos said that managers of major resorts in Panglao are now brainstorming on how to kick off the preparation of Bohol’s tourism industry which includes a revamp of its operational manuals to meet the call for the basic health protocols.
The resort manager said that they will soon identify “bubble resorts” as well as “bubble destinations” to meet a regional partner which also has a low level of Covid contamination.
The existence of an international airport is the prime reason why Bohol will qualify for the travel bubble.
The stakeholders were inspired of Sec. Puyat’s clear pronouncement that the re-opening of tourism will not be taken as a whole country but by islands or provinces. Even if Metro Manila or Cebu might remain on a high level of Covid incidence, Bohol as an island can be considered as a stand alone destination.
With the low level of only 25 active Covid patients, Bohol can very well quality under the “low-risk areas” to be included in the travel bubble list.
Santos said that once resorts can be identified, the tour destinations will follow for evaluation. Once identified, it will be no stopping tour from the resort to the declared “bubble destination.”
The partnering in this travel bubble will be by city of a particular country abroad which can arrange for a direct flight between their country and the province tapping the Bohol Panglao International Airport as the entry point. There will be no stopping in Manila or Cebu as the flights will be direct from abroad to Panglao.
This will not yet be this soon as everything is dependent on the pandemic situation.
Bohol’s next normal direction anchors on the “Bohol Bubble” concept, gliding on the tag, “Ultimate Bohol Experience (UBE)”.
In fact, the Bohol Tourism Office and the Provincial Tourism Council will be carrying the tag, “Ultimate Bohol Experience (UBE)” for the accreditation seal that will be required “on top of DOT’s accreditation”. And, so it would be called the UBE Seal.
Gov.Yap said “all tourism establishments that wish to reopen would be required to secure an UBE Seal on top of DOT’s accreditation”.
This Bohol-specific seal would cover an establishment’s compliance with the province’s sewage treatment plant requirements and carrying capacity, even the use of renewable energy.
“We want to check their (energy) footprint because that is what Bohol is all about. It’s about sustainable eco-agri-tourism so we want to protect our patrimony to make sure that this is going to be here for ages to come. I think it is a surmountable requirement,” Yap said, referring to the soon-to-be-required UBE accreditation.
DOT Sec. BernaPuyat and DILG Sec. Eduardo Año, during their visit to the province on Friday and Saturday commended Bohol officials for enforcing strict Anti-Covid protocol that gives them the confidence that Bohol can gracefully make it to the next normal in reopening the economy through the “Bohol Bubble” designed by the Provincial Tourism Council and the Bohol Tourism Office.
It is for strict Anti-Covid protocol of Bohol that the national government is considering that it is safe to start reopening the tourism economy from the Bohol point of the country.
In fact, Puyat said she finds Bohol easier to sell and can even qualify to become the No. 1 International Tourist Destination.
“The national government salutes you,” Puyat declared during their interaction with the mayors, vice mayors, SangguniangPanlalawigan members, the three representatives of Bohol to Congress, Vice-Gov. Rene Relampagos (through Zoom, as he still in quarantine in Bellevue Resort), and other Bohol officials at the Ceremonial Hall of the New Provincial Capitol last Friday.
Puyat has brought with her, COO Anthonette Velasco Allones (TPB), Administrator GuillerAsido (IA), HEA Maria Acela Katrina Padua, and RhizaGiagonia (PN).
She said the DOT came to Bohol in full force as they are committed to pour P2.1 Billion for Bohol alone from their own budget, not from the General Appropriations Act.
She told the Bohol officials that DOT has been discussing a possible travel corridor with countries with low cases of the coronavirus disease 2019.
“We’ve been having informal talks together with the Department of Foreign Affairs, with Korea, with Japan but, of course, everything is fluid. We’ve already been talking that once travel restrictions have been lifted, we can already talk about direct flights,” she said.
The entourage of Puyat and Año also inspected the first containerized molecular lab stationed within the compound of the Bohol Medical Care Institute (BMCI) along J.A. Clarin St. in Tagbilaran City.
The Provincial Tourism Council has recently submitted its plans and schedules on how to build confidence for visitors and local constituents alike as we move towards re-opening Bohol tourism.
The plan calls for riding on the DOT’s Travel Bubble concept where Bohol will pick a foreign or domestic counterpart to establish a bilateral travel arrangement whether this be by air or sea travel.
“In Bohol, we will first work with the tourism stakeholders and LGUs of Panglao Island to ensure that their employees and their services are anti-Covid compliant. This begins with issuing contact tracing cards and providing PCR tests for visitors when they arrive and leave Bohol,” according to Yap.
Yap assured the two secretaries “that national government funds spent in Bohol are investments well spent for the country.
“We wish to assure Secretary Puyat, that the DOT’s World Bank Tourist Program, especially your components in Farm Tourism, Palengke Development Program, Solid Waste Management Facility for Clustered Municipalities, Tourism Value Chain, Tourism Site Enhancement, Hygiene Preparedness, Sea Ambulances and Decompression Chambers, are well counterparted and made a critical part of this effort to open up our tourism by the last quarter of 2020,” Yap said.
The governor and members of the Bohol Association of Hotels, Resorts and Restaurants (BAHRR) discussed the “Bohol Bubble” as the Philippines considers “travel bubbles” to re-churn the economy.
The output presented to the governor was the initiative of the Provincial Tourism Council (PTC) with the Bohol Tourism Office (BTO). BAHRR is part of the ExeCom of PTC.
The reopening involves all tourism sectors, including the transport sector, aside from hotels and restaurants. Resort managers who are actively involved in the core group who worked on the plan are members of BAHRR.
AS PILOT AREA
Looking forward to reopening the tourism economy, the provincial government is working first with the tourism stakeholders and LGUs of Panglao Island to ensure that their employees and their services are anti-Covid compliant.
“This begins with issuing contact tracing cards and providing PCR tests for visitors when they arrive and leave Bohol,” according to Gov. Art Yap.
All establishments in Panglao Island will be accredited under a soon-to-be passed provincial ordinance which is now on second reading at the SangguniangPanlalawigan.
Salient features for accrediting establishments include the following: health protocols, implementing the establishment’s carrying capacity, on-line reservation and payment systems, and environmental compliances.
Accredited establishments will be given the UBE (Ultimate Bohol Experience) Seal honoring, one of Bohol’s treasured local products- -the Bohol Ube Kinampay.
All tourism destinations in Bohol are encouraged to have themselves accredited, without which, the establishment, will not be open to tourism patronage.
With these preparations being worked out, it is targeted to open Panglao Island to tourists in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The signal for its readiness is when the LGUs would have finalized the health and safety protocols under the new normal.
However, it would only be opened to tourists who are from modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) areas.
Data from the Bohol Tourism Office (BTO) show that “using Boullon’s carrying capacity mathematical model, Panglao has the tourism carrying capacity of 7,233 tourists per day”.
This “translates to a daily tourist arrival of 2,411 if tourists stay an average of three days”.
It is explained that “the tourism carrying capacity was based on the combined real carrying capacity of the swimming areas and beach areas, snorkeling areas, and diving in five premium sites, and diving in other demarcated areas.
Daily Carrying capacity for swimming areas is pegged at 4,281 swimmers; while for beach areas, it’s 2,240 tourists; for snorkeling areas,180 snorkelers; and diving in five premium sites is 300 divers at a rate of 60 dives per site based on the municipal ordinance; and for diving in other demarcated areas, it’s 232.
The BTO record also shows that “a total of 863,372 tourists entered Panglao in 2018 which is equivalent to an average monthly arrival of 71,948 tourists or 2,365 tourist arrivals per day”.
“Comparing to the average daily tourist arrival, the tourism carrying capacity of Panglao is still below the allowable limit. However, looking on a monthly basis, there were seven months with exceedance of tourists’ arrival while five months and five months of having below the allowable limit,” according to the BTO.
The BTO further explained that “the computation of physical carrying capacity of Panglao was based on Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) 2011-2020”.
According to the BTO, there are four scenarios being tested but what is recommended is the scenario is the proposed general land use and superimposed of other limiting factors.
“This study estimated the number of structures based on residential, hotels and resorts, and other commercial establishments,” according to the BTO.
The BTO elaborated that “for residential structures with average standard size requirement of 328.7 square meters, the real carrying capacity was found to be 8,840 units which imply that the municipality can still accommodate 1,885 residential units”.
“For hotels and resorts, the real carrying capacity was estimated at 4,723 units- -considering the aggregate number of units based on the average standard size requirement of less than 1,000 square meters, then 1,000-5,000 square meters, and more than 5,000 square meters- -which translates to allowable structures of 4,260 units,” according to BTO.
For other commercial establishments with average standard size requirement of 405.9 square meters, the real carrying capacity was computed to be 1,433 units or equivalent to 464 allowable units.
The BTO considers “the municipality of Panglao as a fast-growing and booming LGU in terms of investments in the tourism industry and has earned the distinction of being one of the preferred destinations in the Philippines for its crystal clear and blue waters, spectacular coral reefs, dive spots and various white and powdery beaches ideal for sunbathing and for swimming”.
As Panglao “has flourished with its tourism industry, there have been more establishments constructed along the beach areas” to spruce up their make-up.
The BTO noted that while “there are opportunities for local residents in terms of employment and improvement of their socio-economic conditions, the situation has changed and worsened over a period of time as demonstrated by the construction of illegal structures within the easement zone, fast erosion of white sands on the beach, illegal sand extraction, and deterioration of water quality”.
“The tragedy about Covid is that it has derailed us from important work we were doing before the pandemic. One critical issue in Bohol is water availability for more than half of Bohol’s 1,109 barangays. Time and again we had hoped for private investments to develop our water resources but we realized that private businesses were only interested in supplying Tagbilaran City and its adjacent towns and Panglao Island. They are not interested in rural-based communities,” according to Yap.
On this, he said the province “decided to invest ourselves in water”.
“We are clustering and developing open water sources in nine towns so we can supply them and their neighboring towns with water. We hope to serve a total of 22 municipalities or close to 700,000 people in three years time. We may have the funds to build the impounding dams, but we need the continuing assistance of the DILG Salintubig program and the LGSF for the pipes and pumps for the towns,” Yap said.
This is for the far-flung, rural communities of Bohol.
In the tourism and commercial center of Tagbilaran City, Panglao Island and five other neighboring towns, the province appreciates the DOT-World Bank Tourist project since that is included in its Bohol Water and Sanitation Project.
“Water is a critical issue not only on-shore in Bohol but off-shore as well since we have more than 64 island barangays. People in the NCR are paying about 10 centavos per liter for their tap water at home. In the islands, people are paying about P2 pesos per liter. But in the next two years, we are targeting the delivery of desalination plant systems to about 10 islands strategically clustered around other islands,” Yap said.
The provincial government have started in Pandanon Island in Getafe.
“Today, from P2 per liter, they are paying 50 centavos per liter of high quality drinking water. We are ready to put one up in Balicasag and develop the STP system for TIEZA’s Balicasag Island Dive Resort, as well as actively manage the settlers there if we are allowed for a joint venture with the TIEZA. Who better to partner with the Tieza than the people of Bohol themselves,” Yap added.
Taking the cue from President Duterte’s closure of Boracay Island, the governor said Bohol is also working on the rehabilitation of Panglao Island pre-Covid.
“Together with DOT and DENR, we have started to demolish illegal structures in Alona Beach,” Yap said.
Yesterday, Yap and Panglao Mayor Nila Montero escorted Puyat and Año in inspecting the Alona stretch in barangay Tawala, Panglao to see what must be in place for the reopening of tourism.
The governor suggested that there must be a system on one entry-one exit for pumpboats so that there will no longer be pumpboats crowding the frontage of the shorelines as there used to be before Covid.
Other projects that the province is working on with the DENR and the DOT-TIEZA is building a solid waste management plant in the Albur sanitary Landfill.
TIEZA spent close to P400 million for the Albur sanitary Landfill. But at present, it still does not have a plant that can properly process regular, medical and hazardous waste.
On the provincial government’s request for DOT support in establishing an office for the Philippine Commission for Sports Scuba diving in Bohol which has been a decade long clamor, Puyat conveyed a positive response.
PCSSD in Bohol, will allow regulation of the diving industry in Bohol.