Honda Bay, one of the main tourist draws of Puerto Princesa City before the COVID-19 lockdowns, has reopened to domestic tourists as the city itself began to gradually reopen this dormant industry.
Reckoning a loss of around P1 million in foregone revenue last year, the management of Honda Bay Islands Tour are placing their bet on local tourists to restart economic activity in the area known for island-hopping options.
“There were significant changes as we adapt in the ‘new normal’ of travelling,” said Rix Rafols, assistant general manager of Cowrie Island in Honda Bay, as he explained how everyone, visitors and tour officials alike, needs to follow the health protocols in place.
Their sumptuous buffet, which travelers always look forward to after a day of hopping in-between the islands, was temporarily taken off the packages being offered. This, Rafols said, was to ensure that their would be limited in-person contact between the staff and the tourists.
“Honda Bay is also known for snorkeling but since it is an activity that is considered high-risk, we are also no longer renting out snorkeling gears. If the guests want to enjoy under-the-sea view, they have to bring their own gears,” Rafols added.
Other water sports, such as kayaking and paddle boat, are still being offered in Cowrie in their usual rates between P500 up to P800.
“Joiners” , a common practice for domestic tourists where small groups of individuals were being merged to form a larger group to save fuel and other costs, are also prohibited.
“Sa isang bangka, minimum of six persons, P1,500. ‘Yong mas malaking bangka, maximum of 15 katao, ay P2,100,” said Analisa Magoliño, president of Honda Bay Boat Owners Association Inc.
Doctor Dean Palanca, commander of City Incident Management Team (IMT), said travel protocols had been crafted by different stakeholders including City Tourism Office (CTO), and other local business groups.
“Basta mag-iingat at susunod ang lahat sa guidelines at health protocols, maaari nilang ma-enjoy ang Honda Bay, and Cowrie. Maganda dito at makikita mo, mae-enjoy ang ganda ng Puerto Princesa especially kapag weekend,” Palanca said.
City vice mayor Nancy Socrates said the reopening of Honda Bay tours will substantially boost the local economy that plummeted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least 378 boat owners and crew members lost their means of living when the pandemic struck.
Romeo Dura, a 57-year-old boat crew member who spent four decades of his life in Honda Bay, said he picked up temporary jobs as a carpenter and a handyman.
“Maliit lang ayuda, sakto lang pang isa o dalawang linggo. Kailangan mabuhay kaya marami sa amin ang naghanap ng ibang pagkakakitaan,” Dura said.
The licensed city tour guides, on the other hand, have been temporarily re-designated to the City IMT, assisting incoming individuals from outside Palawan province.