The Provinces in the Ilocos and Cordillera regions plan to restart their tourism industries by offering limited bus tours for local residents there, Senator Imee Marcos revealed on Monday.
Marcos said, under the program, in an ongoing “experiment,” local tourists from neighboring provinces will book online tickets to board buses with several pitstops like beaches and restaurants.
“Ang advantage namin sa Norte, ang tourism places namin halos lahat outdoor… Pero [tourists from] neighbor-neighbor lang muna… Within the ‘bubble’ lang muna (Our advantage in the North is that most of our tourism places are outdoor… But we will only get tourists from neighboring provinces… We will remain within our ‘bubble’ for now.),” Marcos told reporters in an online press conference.
Marcos served as Ilocos Norte governor before she was elected to the Senate.
the chairperson of the Senate committee on economic affairs said Ilocos Norte has started its pilot testing of safe tourism within the province.
“Yung ‘Buklod ng Kaligtasan’ puwedeng magsimula ng kaunting tourism kasi parang hirap na hirap na ang aming travel agency tour operators, mga tour guide, mga iskolar na umaasa sa tourism, hirap na talaga,” Marcos said.
“Para kahit papaano may talagang tourism activity lang… Hirap na hirap na kasi yung aming mga travel operators, tour guides (Just so we have tourism activity… Because our travel operators, and tour guides have really been struggling.),” Marcos said.
The “bubble tourism program” is not expected to receive tourists from Metro Manila and other provinces with high COVID-19 cases, Marcos said.
“Ilocano sa Ilocano muna, kasi dito lang kami sure. Kami-kami muna ang nagsisi-ikot… But hopefully within the region, ma-e-expand din namin ang mga bubble (Only Ilocanos are going around because we are sure of each other here. We just go around our own province for now… but hopefully we can expand our bubble within the region.),” she said.
The trial run of the limited Northern Luzon tours is expected to start in two weeks, and that the test trips will only ply from La Union to Ilocos Norte, she said.
“Within the region or province lang for the meantime kasi kung sobra sa requirements, baka hassle lang, (because if we have too many requirements, it might just be a hassle for tourists),” the senator said.
Local governments are still finalizing plans if tourists will ride an air-conditioned bus, an ordinary bus, or traditional jeepneys.
Officials also have to clarify with the national government if senior citizens in provinces with low COVID-19 cases will be allowed to go out.
“We [in Ilocos] have the highest level of longest-living Filipinos. Ang dami naming matatanda… At malaking bagay for them ang maarawan, makalabas (We have a lot of elderly in Ilocos and it is important for them to go out and bask in the sun.),” she said.
The tourism industry accounts for about 12 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT).
In 2018, the Ilocos region, popular for its cultural heritage sites and surfing havens, received at least 2.44 million tourists.
The Cordillera Administrative Region, popular because of its cool climate, rice terraces and agri-tourism industry, catered to some 2.18 million visitors in the same year.
“Ang multiplier effect ng tourism ang laki… Pati yung mga nagbebenta ng pagkain at inumin, all the way down, maraming nakikinabang (The tourism sector’s multiplier effect is big… All the way down to food sellers and water vendors are making profit because of it.),” Marcos said.
The two regions had to temporarily stop receiving visitors in March after the entire Luzon – the most populous Philippine island – was placed on a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Based on the Department of Health’s (DOH’s) data, as of June 28, Cordillera registered 113 COVID-cases, nearly half of which were from Baguio City, one of the top tourism destinations in the region. Other cases were from Benguet (37), Abra (8), Apayao (8), Kalinga (7), Ifugao (6), and Mt. Province (1).
Ilocos Norte had 121 cases, 79 of which were from the region’s southern most province of Pangasinan. La Union has 30 cases, while Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur each has 6./Stacy Ang