The city government’s push to open the Balayong Park in December as a red-letter calendar event is a noteworthy undertaking to assert the city’s tourism recovery agenda in the face of setbacks the industry has suffered due to the pandemic.

At the center stage of the planned event is the commissioning of a lavish waterpark as a centerpiece feature of the facility built around the Balayong tree, the city’s unique version of the famous Japanese sakura cherry blossom. The preparations also include a grand fireworks display to highlight the event in bold uppercase.

The launching date, still to be announced, promises to be a grand spectacle for the weary locals and tourism industry players hoping for a return of the good old days. It remains, however, a strictly local celebration.

Beneath this initiative is a separate push of local tourism industry players to relax travel restrictions and allow some leeway for them to operate similar to what other destinations, such as Boracay or Cebu, are doing. A second petition that they initiated a year ago is going around to try and convince the city government to adopt a more travel tolerant policy.

Boracay for instance no longer requires a quarantine period for inbound travelers, provided that they are fully vaccinated and have secured a negative RT-PCR test prior to travel. In Puerto Princesa City, the current health protocols allow only a 3-day pass for vaccinated inbound travelers.

Even late last year, and prior to the Covid surge in the city during the first quarter of this year, hotel establishments and tour operators have been petitioning the city government to ease travel restrictions. The Incident Management Team (IMT) which oversees the local pandemic response policy has adamantly stood for a conservative policy, noting the city’s vulnerability and limited health capacity.

The twin surge experienced by the city, the first one in March and another the one presently ongoing but receiving less public attention, has bared the limited capacity of the city’s medical care facilities to cope with an outbreak. This has been the basic premise of the IMT’s adamant stance at retaining strict protocols.

The recovery of the city’s tourism industry remains tied to its capacity to manage the pandemic, and the policy protocols in other places where travel is allowed cannot simplistically be adopted locally, even with the assertion that Puerto Princesa City has presently been downgraded to a GCQ status.

The key to reopening, as Puerto’s experience so far has shown, is hinged on its capacity to push back another surge by having a better-than-current medical care facility infrastructure and broader vaccination coverage.

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