But wise words from tourism chief Berna Romulo-Puyat as domestic travel resumes: Have a safe trip!

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WELL[FARE] Flight and hospitality staff strictly enforce Covid-19 safety precautions

Boracay has reopened to domestic travel since the start of this month.

Staying home is still the best way to protect oneself and others from Covid-19, but the reopening of one of the top destinations in the Philippines is a signal that maybe we can now start taking calculated risks. The economy that should sustain us, after all, needs as much protection from the pandemic as we do.

While stressing that safety is top priority, Berna Romulo Puyat, secretary of the Department of Tourism (DOT), says, “We cannot surrender to this pandemic. We have to find ways to live and thrive in it while protecting ourselves and other people.”

We might say that reopening Boracay has been a bold move, but the DOT, along with the other key agencies, particularly the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), has studied the move thoroughly. “Boracay has been open to Western Visayas since June 16 and, so far, it has remained Covid-free,” says Berna. “We have been studying what works and what can be done better, and have also applied our learnings from the best practices of other destinations in terms of reopening.”

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QUARANTINE RULES (QR) Contactless transactions and process’ are utilized

Since the island paradise, one of the most renowned of the country’s many islands, opened itself up again on Oct. 1 to domestic tourists after many months in lockdown, it has represented the revival of the tourism industry and its relentless efforts to restore the jobs and livelihoods lost due to the pandemic. “It also stands for our resiliency to adapt and innovate to make travel possible—and safe—even in these times,” adds Berna.

Here are excerpts from our conversation with the tourism chief about the restoration of tourism in the country.

The recent opening of Boracay is a bold statement, especially as it came with the relaxation of age restrictions. How else can you reassure families with kids under 21 and elders over 60 who are eager to break from being cooped up all these months? 

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SEA-CURITY Be it land, air, or see, social distancing and other safety measures are observed throughout trips

By continuously informing the public about the numerous safety protocols implemented to ensure the health and safety of our people, we strive to regain traveler trust and confidence and slowly but surely rebuild the tourism sector.

It is only natural for families with children and elderly to have travel concerns, but with the help of digital technology, we are now finally able to allow more tourists outside Western Visayas to visit Boracay. Potential visitors are required to submit online, their confirmed hotel bookings, air tickets, and negative RT-PCR results obtained 48 hours prior to travel, for the approval of the Aklan provincial government. Once approved, guests are given their personal QR codes, which will be used to access entry points and establishments, ensuring their safety and health.

Also, to ensure that hotels and resorts live up to the highest level of quality and safety, only accommodation establishments with a DOT-accreditation and a Certificate of Authority to Operate (CAO) are allowed to accommodate guests.

Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Watch your distance. And enjoy the trip.

—Berna Romulo Puyat

This initiative is aligned with our campaign to support new health and safety guidelines through a pivot toward contactless transactions. The use of digital technologies in various business processes such as bookings and payments contribute to efforts at minimizing face-to-face engagements.

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DISCIP-LINE Passengers following new travel protocols in response to the health crisis

What’s more, certified disinfecting protocols and enhanced sanitation measures of establishments are now required and being applied. 

I am certain that the various innovative and stringent public health and safety protocols we have implemented and continue to carry out will instill traveler trust and confidence and encourage families, even with young children and the elderly, to once again explore the beauty of our islands and enjoy the best our country has to offer.

What is safe travel to you?

It’s important to follow the health and hygiene guidelines set by the Department of Health (DOH) and World Health Organization (WHO), but a simple way to remember the most crucial ones is to embrace the 3Ws.

Wear your mask.

Wash your hands.

Watch your distance.

If each one of us maintains to practice these principles individually, our own health and that of those around us is assured and safe travel is reinforced. 

Safe travel also means ensuring that safety protocols and measures are implemented not only in the destination but the journey as well. This is why we require a negative RT-PCR test not earlier than 48 hours upon entry and pursue the use of digital applications that cover contact tracing and promote contactless transactions, such as the case in Boracay with its QR code technology and Baguio for its Visitor Information and Travel Assistance or VIS.I.T.A platform.

On the destination itself, the DOT has rolled out guidelines on minimum safety and health protocols for hotel accommodations, tourist land transport services, restaurants, MICE facilities, island and beach destinations, and travel and tour operators. 

These institutional measures will allow us to meet, if not exceed, the expectations of our travelers when it comes to safety, paving the way toward a more sustainable and resilient tourism industry.

In planning a trip, what are the three most important items on your list that should ensure the trip will be all safe, just happy memories, no regrets?

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ON THE DOT Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat. Photo by Noel Pabalate

The three things I cannot go without, taking into consideration the country’s policies on health and sanitation, would be facemask, face shield, and hand sanitizer. I always bring extra supplies of these three items when I go out.

Note: In answer to many inquiries, “negative RT-PCR result is not required for seven years and below,” as stated in Executive Order No. 037, Series of 2020, issued by the office of Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores.

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