CANDELARIA, Zambales – This province will finally reopen to domestic and international tourists after getting the approval of the Department of Tourism (DOT) to revive the PHP1.4-billion local tourism industry that has suffered due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
Governor Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. received full support for this move from Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, who assured the certification of Zambales for reopening in an online planning and consultation forum on Friday.
Romulo-Puyat said she approved the reopening of Zambales tourism attractions because of the province’s readiness and proven capacity to maintain health safety protocols within its borders.
“Zambales is one of the most prepared and best-managed areas in terms of curbing the spread of the coronavirus disease. I think it’s now ready to open its doors to tourists,” she said.
Ebdane said the local tourism industry is the second-highest revenue earner for the province next to agriculture, with an estimated PHP1.4 billion income per annum.
The industry is anchored on popular attractions like beach resorts in 11 of the 13 municipalities situated along the coast, as well as inland tourist magnets like lakes, rivers, waterfalls, caves, and mountains.
Ebdane said tourist arrivals in the province alone reached over 700,000 last year.
On top of this, residents patronize local resorts to enjoy what neighboring areas have to offer, he said.
While the province has consistently turned up in recent years among the top tourist destinations in Central Luzon based on visitor arrival, its tourism and leisure industry suffered the most after the Covid-19 quarantine was imposed nationwide in March this year, he said.
“Our tourism industry has really been hurting since the start of the pandemic. So, after several meetings with tourism stakeholders here to assess the situation, we are now pushing for a calibrated reopening of tourism facilities here,” Ebdane said.
“We may be behind other provinces in reopening, but we really want to be fully ready and be able to observe first the limits of our capability before making the desired plunge,” he added.
During the online conference, Romulo-Puyat reiterated the need to put health and safety at the forefront of all considerations in order to allow the reopening of tourism sites to revive the economy.
She pointed out that tourism accounted for 12.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and 13.5 percent of the country’s total workforce in 2019 with 5.7 million employed workers.
She also cited several benefit packages that the DOT and the Department of Local Employment (DOLE) can together offer to stakeholders.
These included PHP5,000 in financial assistance for employees of DOT-accredited businesses who were displaced by the pandemic.
She said the DOT will also provide an online registration system to facilitate a convenient entry and exit of visitors; capability build-up trainings for the implementation of health and safety guidelines in tourism establishments; working-capital loan payable in four years, with a one-year grace period and zero interest rate; and free reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for all tourism frontline workers.
The provincial government of Zambales and the DOT also agreed to develop a visitor management system that would efficiently monitor and address transmission risks between locals and visitors, but which would not unnecessarily inconvenience and thereby, discourage tourist arrival.
Ebdane said a vital part of the action plan is the rigid health and safety protocols.
He said before the reopening, tourism facilities should establish systems for the entry and exit of visitors; an advanced booking system; provide sanitation equipment and fixtures; and come up with schemes to reduce interaction not only between resort employees and guests but also among the visitors themselves.
“We need to revive the economy. But we also need to take care of the health of our people. We also need to help the country, and the world, to fight this pandemic, so it is important to strike a balance between safety and business,” the governor added. (PNA)