The tourist town of El Nido officially re-opened its businesses to local tourists only on Thursday, as a key move to gradually restart the local economy.

According to the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO), around 40 establishments and 400 workers will be back to work and businesses, after nearly seven months of inactivity.

The much-awaited reopening of tourism hotspot El Nido finally pushed through by virtue of the town’s Executive Order 2020-079 after being rescheduled by the local tourism office. The reopening has been in development since early July with a push coming from Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.

In an interview with Palawan News Thursday, MTO chief Arvin Acosta said the objective is to gradually restart the tourism industry with strict health protocols in place.

“Hindi naman ito in the sense na ibalik [ang turismo], pero ito ay para may masimulan [na economic activity]. Kapag pumasok ang pera, tatakbo uli ang system. Slow, but sure and safe ang magiging takbo,” he said.

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The town reopening is different from the earlier proposed “tourism bubble,” initially planned by the DOT with El Nido Resorts, an Ayala-owned group of island resorts located in the town. According to Acosta, the bubble will be utilized instead for guests coming outside Palawan in Phase 2 of the reopening.

“Masasabing parang mas malaking tourism bubble ang mangyayari dahil open ito sa mga hindi taga-El Nido. Pero ang bubble ay gagamitin sa Phase 2, kasi andoon na ang mga galing Manila,” he said.

Acosta added that they will gauge the effectivity of the current system to plan for Phase 2 of the tourism opening.

“’Di ko masabi kung kailan talaga ang Phase 2. We’ll see if successful ang system sa Phase 1, at mag-recommend ang MIATF kay Mayor [Edna Gacot-Lim],” Acosta said.

Guidelines for tourists

However, only a selected number of tourism establishments may operate in the town under the current quarantine conditions. The official Facebook page of the town MTO has released various guidelines on how visitors should transact with leisure establishments, such as only checking in with duly accredited hotels and resorts.

“As El Nido gears towards the new normal, we would like to remind our valued guests to book your future stays in accommodation establishments with Certificates of Authority to Operate (CATO) issued by the Department of Tourism. This certification will help assure compliance to the proper protocols prescribed by the government,” one statement reads.

The post further enumerated some 30 establishments that have already secured their CATOs.

Those who wish to visit the town must first accomplish a health declaration form and secure a booking to a property with a CATO. When entering the town, visitors must bring a valid ID stating that they reside in Palawan and booking confirmation with their intended accommodation.

Mask and snorkel rentals are also prohibited and guests must bring their own equipment and food during island hopping activities.

Non-El Nido tourists are also still required to pay the P200 eco-tourism development fee (ETDF) and undergo orientation before entering the town.


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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.