Monday, August 10, 2020

Bohol bares 4Q target for tourism re-opening -- are we ready? #OpEd

Are we?

Bohol - we are ready!

These words -- bold rounded purple fonts, exclamation point and all -- bannered the opening slide of the Gov. Art Yap's Bohol tourism re-opening strategy at the interface of Bohol officials and mayors with Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año and Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat during the two secretaries' visit in Bohol on July 31, 2020. 

But wait, hold your horses --

-- that's the goal (pa!) -- lower those eyebrows, yes both eyebrows -- not (yet!) a declaration.

Because, are we ready, really?

Gov. Art Yap with DOT Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat and DILG Sec. Eduardo M. Año inspected Alona Beach during their 2-day visit here the previous weekend


Eyeing a re-opening of our tourism economy to guests from outside Bohol in the 4th quarter of 2020 (practically less than 2 months away) -- there's a plan, of course.

It has something to do with the establishment of: 

  • the "Tourism plan" -- not sure what exactly this is; there's an on-going (since last year, but, well, derailed now) updating of the Tourism Code of Bohol, and we hope this is not it because fast-tracking the code updating in a rush to re-open tourism is counter-productive; there's simply so much that has yet to be done as regards the Code updating...) 
  • the Bohol Bubble -- which we kinda hoped was like New Zealand's 'social bubbles' approach (also adapted and elaborated on in England, etc.) that is, allowing socialization within one's social bubble, the size of which balloons or shrinks according to intensity of the pandemic, the smallest unit is basically your household or the people you live with during the strictest lockdown level.
The basic idea behind the bubble is to conceive of your socializing not as a matter of the individual but as that of a self-contained household: If you visit the home of a friend, for example, you aren’t the only one put at risk. Your roommates or family members you’re living with, by extension, have been exposed to the risk. Your bubble is this group of people: those you live with and those you closely or regularly interact with. 
but then apparently, this is derived from DOT's tourism or travel bubble strategy, where certain tourist destinations in the country -- will be bubble-wrapped and popped one by one -- err, no, I mean, key tourism places like Bohol with an international airport and fairly low COVID-19 cases, could be allowed to directly admit visitors from COVID-19 free countries....

...so the rules there will be bound to be tourist-centric not Bol-anon centric...  

 and the conduct of:

  • aggressive marketing (promotion campaigns) to obviously and firstly attract and convince tourists to come visit (and that it's safe for them to do so...)

The pre-conditions include:
  • Health protocols - cascaded, implemented and monitored
  • Carrying capacity - at a particular place at any given time, determined (there's the epidemiological capacity, but then there's the existing problem of Bohol tourism of maxing out the carrying capacity of many of its nature-based attractions...)
  • Centralized reservation and payments: centralized registration for all guests in sites and attractions (this is apparently patterned after Boracay guidelines post-closure/rehab, but if this is their answer to the need for a surveillance/ contact-tracing system, and if so, must be strictly followed, then we are offering a more or less North Korea -style tourism, really, strict itineraries, with minders and all?)
  • Environmental compliances (ECs) - and other previous pre-COVID-19 requirements shouldn't be mentioned at all really, these rules all stay -- but if it must be highlighted, then stress: strict implementation. Revoke all permits of all violators, and they must not be allowed to operate until they comply (this should the rule for all industries, really, COVID-19 or none...). But, then who are these violators? Practically most all of our beachfront establishments do not comply with the 20-meter easement rule. Anyhow...
Are all these doable? Of course. But in the next two months, doubtful.

The best (and only) indicator, really and quite simply, is to see if these requisites (in the context of COVID-19 response & recovery) are in place for Bol-anons and other residents in Bohol?

Here's a loose laying down of the requisites to the requisites for the re-opening of Bohol's tourism industry:

COVID-19 Response Requisites for Bohol

Tourism Re-opening Requisites

Health protocols, personal hygiene & respiratory etiquette, including mask/ face shield mandate, & other CQ rules

Data-informed identification of local hotspots or sites of infection clusters, including establishing their capacity limits (as per safe distancing rules) & appropriate controls

Tourism carrying capacity [(ecological/ socio-cultural/ economic) + (safe distancing limits)] of specific tourism sites

Centralized automated contact tracing system (with QR check-in, proximity-tracing/ symptom tracking/ outbreak response features)

Centralized reservation/ registration


And you know, almost 5 months in the community quarantine, all of these must-do's for Bohol are not yet in place even in the denser & richer tourism magnets like Tagbilaran, Dauis and Panglao.

Take Alona Beach. We visited last Saturday and the number of people (mostly, non-locals or tourists/ alien-resident-looking) walking about without masks -- mask rule violators -- are too much. (The violations below are the only ones that we could discreetly take pictures of.) 

Is this a preview of the tourism bubble that's coming -- tourists freely moving around free from local mandates like wearing of masks, etc.? 

 


 


Maskless people walking towards Alona Beach in Tawala, Panglao. Taken on Saturday, 8 August 2020. 


Centralized booking, reservations & registration, eh? How about they automate and centralize our local contact tracing/visitor management system first? Panglao's border control point/ visitor check-in system (and most of Bohol's really) is rustic and awkward, far from charming. (a trend thereabouts, it seems, what with the Bolod-Tawala traffic lights and all)

Panglao town's border control point

And if tourist families can roam around with all of their kids in tow at any day of the week -- and that rule of one child per guardian (per HQP) on allowed days for minors is still active for the locals -- that would simply be unfair and can become a point of resentment towards tourists. 

The same goes for all other quarantine controls. The single most important minimum assessment criteria for the opening Bohol's borders to domestic and international tourism should be that whatever freedom & tolerances are given to the tourists, all of these must have already been afforded to all people in Bohol.

Will we ever be ready? We must. We should. We have to. But please, Bol-anons first.

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