In a bid to make travel attractive again, the Philippines has announced standardised travel protocols for all local government units (LGU).
Previously, LGUs had required travellers to produce medical certificates, take pre-travel as well as test-on-arrival Covid-19 swabs, and then quarantine.
Now, under a new directive by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, travellers no longer have to submit negative Covid-19 tests, health certificates, or travel authority clearance from the Philippines' Joint Task Force Covid Shield prior to travel. Quarantine is also not necessary, unless travellers exhibit virus symptoms upon arrival.
The news comes after a relaxed ban on foreign travellers from destinations with the Covid-19 UK variant since 1 February.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) has welcomed this latest move, which DOT secretary, Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said is “critical in making domestic tourism work," according to a report by Philstar Global.
"Borders are open again to our Balikbayans (returning citizen) whose travel plans to rejoin their families in the country starting 7 December, 2020 were curtailed with the travel ban on passengers from the new Covid variant countries. Now, they can replan their visits, notably as more local destinations have reopened."
Earlier, undersecretary at Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Jonathan Malaya, had too at a 20 February statement stressed the same need to "harmonise and streamline the different travel restrictions imposed by LGUs to domestic travellers".
“Placing the entire country under one quarantine classification would allow the DILG to harmonise the fragmented travel regulations across the country,” said Malaya, who added that locals are "confused about travel regulations because they vary from province to province".
As well, a clearer and less restrictive quarantine classification would help deter locals from disregarding health protocols.
Malaya's sentiments are not unfounded: a recent local survey found that relaxed health protocols that are standardised across tourism destinations encourages Filipinos to book domestic trips.
The survey also found that tourism destinations with the most relaxed health protocols, reduced costs and frequency of Covid-19 testing requirements attracted more budget-conscious travellers. 7,243 locals across all 78 provinces in the country, and from 108 tourism enterprises responded to this poll between 28 November and 30 December last year.
As recent as in early February, most areas in the Philippines — especially Boracay Island — still required foreign travellers to produce a negative Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test result before entry.
DOT's marketing and promotions unit, Tourism Promotions Board is currently subsidising 50% of the cost for locals who still need to take the Covid-19 tests.
To better support tour operators in enhancing their services, DOT will be rolling out product and market development initiatives such as business-to-business meetings, benchmarking, product audit, and familiarisation tours that feature new sites and attractions that will appeal to more people to travel locally. The focus will be on outdoor activities, historical and cultural destinations, as indicated by the survey results.
“As always, we shall be taking a multi-lateral approach to address current issues relating to the pandemic, working more closely with local government units, stakeholders, and local communities. Guided by the new survey results, the DOT and its partners will be able to plot the crucial next steps for the recovery of the tourism industry, creating better, more efficient and effective strategies where there is mutual and inclusive growth for all,” said Puyat.