• Philip Nino Tan-Gatue

Sri Lanka Accepts Foreign Tourists Again. What about the Philippines?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it would seem that my country has been on lockdown. Sure, there have been varying degrees of what's allowed and what isn't, but there is one constant. Foreign tourists aren't coming. They're gone. Zip. And so is tourism spending.

Nations and territories all could use some extra income from tourists coming in. For some places, foreign tourism is the single greatest source of revenue for their entire economy. The effects of travel restrictions can be disastrous not only for the immediate stakeholders, but for all other connected industries. When hotels shut down, suppliers of their consumables feel the pinch as well. It all falls down like a pack of dominoes. Local tourism is great for a country like China, where each province seemingly is like a whole different country. For the Philippines, it can't really substitute for a handicapped foreign tourism industry.

And then I read that Sri Lanka has opened up after 10 months. The article (link) elaborates on how they plan to keep things safe for everyone:

Under new protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, tourists must be tested for the virus in their country 72 hours prior to their flight, when they arrive at their hotel in Sri Lanka and again seven days later. They must stay in a “travel bubble” designated in 14 tourism zones without mixing with the local population. About 180 hotels have been earmarked for tourist accommodations.

So, it's going to be like the National Basketball Association Bubble.

Can we duplicate this in our own country? There are several reasons why I think it is difficult.

For starters, I cannot imagine keeping foreign tourist groups in a "bubble" for the entire time that they are in the Philippines. What about the travel to tourist spots? Let's take a look at the usual ways to arrive at said tourist spots

Boracay: One can arrive at Kalibo International Airport then take an hour long land trip to Caticlan or arrive via other major international airports then take a domestic flight.. Either way, one must still take a ferry to Boracay Island.

Siargao: First, arrive in an international airport, then take a domestic flight to Sayak Airport in Siargao Island. From the airport, one must take a 45 minute land trip to Cloud 9 Beach.

El Nido: Arrive in an international airport, take a domestic flight to El Nido. However, many tourists also fly in from Cebu or Caticlan. Many also take land transportation from Puerto Princesa.

Given this, is it at all possible to keep the tourists separated from the local population? Would they actually be willing to do so? We would have to charter special planes and buses and boats just to keep the tourist populations separate.

Second, once they actually get to the said tourist spots, what would happen? Would we have to build physical structures to keep the two sets of tourists from mingling in the wide open beaches? That would really ruin the point of escaping to nature! Also, would they want to? Given our still relatively-okay rates of English literacy, tourists love coming here not just to see the sights and soak up the sun, but to socialize with the locals. Will we now need two sets of stores, two sets of restaurants, two sets of facilities?

Third, even if we do manage to pull that off, what about the Filipino staff manning said tourist attractions? Can we really force many of them to be in the tourist bubble to keep them away from the rest of the population? Maybe there are those who are optimistic about being able to do this. I am not one of them. The bottom line is this: we need to get this pandemic under control. The damage being done by COVID-19 is more than just directly draining our healthcare industry, but our tourism industry is also bleeding to death. Stick to the protocols, get vaccinated when they become available, and be disciplined. Otherwise we all suffer.


*, N., Rain | Words and Wanderlust says, Wanderlust, R., 20, M., Says, M., Detourist, M., . . . Yeager, W. (2020, July 12). Philippines Travel Goals! Beautiful Places to Visit for First-Timers. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.detourista.com/guide/philippines-best-places/

Asia Today: Sri Lanka reopens to tourists after 10 months. (2021, January 21). Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/asia-today-sri-lanka-reopens-to-tourists-after-10-months-sri-lanka-tourists-tourism-tourists-tourists-b1790479.html

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