The city government unveiled this week a P205 million tourism recovery plan, hoping to steer a gradual recovery of the local industry greatly affected by the pandemic. The plan involves a phased opening of the sector, from catering initially to locals and progressing to full normal operations.
City mayor Lucilo Bayron at the same time called on all businesses to resume operations even under difficult circumstances, stating that it is to the advantage of Puerto Princesa City to be prepared once the national government signals the lifting of travel restrictions and a full mobilization of the economy.
While the fact remains that any effort to defeat COVID-19 will continue to be weighed down by the absence of an effective vaccination program and proven medical cure, the existing protocols on physical distancing and minimizing the spread of infection provide opportunities to restart economies, even tourism that is dependent on allowing people to travel freely.
The concept of a tourism bubble that the Department of Tourism had earlier tried to pilot in El Nido seems to have worked at the initial stage when it was demonstrated by a private company that has the resources to do it right. But when the local government unit tried to roll it out with inadequate preparation and capacity, it did not quite get the traction it needed.
Comes Puerto Princesa with its own shot at the same target, but this time one could see the preparations are at least well in place. An army of contact tracers have been mobilized and planning was evident. Also unlike El Nido, the main stakeholders particularly the businesses that thrive on the industry are keenly involved in the entire process.
The City government had announced it is doing an extra mile to pump prime the local tourism industry by reducing entrance fees on the attractions under its management including the Underground River and the various community-based sustainable tourism projects. Mayor Lucilo Bayron says doing such should encourage all the rest of the sector to follow suit.
Comparing Puerto Princesa City to El Nido in terms of how each are bidding for their respective tourism economies however should also take note of the fact that El Nido is disadvantaged by its smaller economic base that can support local consumption.
At the end of the day, it is hard to remain bullish about tourism recovery until such time when travel is allowed. Businesses cannot sustain to remain open when there is little or even nothing to make. Allowing travel and reopening the ports of Palawan will be a turnkey policy to achieve this goal. But its implications on the pandemic situation is a separate concern that has to be managed and addressed.