The much anticipated November launch of the El Nido tourism bubble was not as eventful as the hype that preceded it, including the several visits by no less than DOT secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat and the meticulous trials conducted by the Ayala group’s El Nido Resorts to pilot test a tourism bubble operation in the middle of the pandemic.

There wasn’t a hint of fanfare one would expect from what was supposed to be an important government-initiated strategic move to prop the moribund tourism sector back to its feet. One would imagine that the amount of preparation would have been sufficient enough such that most if not everyone in the little town were aware, and not the least unprepared.

El Nido’s experience, as understood from DOT pronouncements, is supposed to provide a template for gradually opening the entire sector elsewhere even under the throes of coronavirus. After all, the economy needs to bounce back somehow.

Under the plan, local tourists are already allowed to travel to El Nido for leisure or vacation subject to stringent health protocols without having to go through current mandatory health policies for visiting individuals. In a nutshell, the plan was to create a tourism bubble where visitors may come in and out of El Nido for vacation without endangering themselves and others from the Covid pandemic or risking transmission of the coronavirus.

A casual observation made by Palawan News reporters who covered the occasion indicated there are still important preparations needed to be put in place to ensure the initiative’s success. For one thing, if there is a mask mandate in town, it needs to be strictly implemented as a basic health protocol. It should perhaps begin with ensuring that everyone in town is in the same page as to what is being done.

Outside of the nine tourism establishment that had been pre-accredited by the Department of Tourism to resume operations under the bubble program, there was evidently little information known to the rest of the establishments what exactly was going on. There was no imaginary bubble in place to ensure that visitors are “confined” to it. People, including both locals and tourists, casually mingled.

The irony of the circumstance was that on the day the town reopened its doors, there was a determination that a case of local transmission of COVID-19 was recorded. A scaled-up tourism activity under such conditions would have been risky and dangerous.

Circumstances such as this make it hard to rate the El Nido tourism reopening initiative as a success. If at all, it should be an opportunity to learn lessons on how to do it right, both for the local government unit and the Department of Tourism which are the main stakeholders in that exercise.


***** READ THE EDITORIAL’S FILIPINO VERSION HERE: Ang tourism bubble ng El Nido