The Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) welcomed seven guests during its reopening to tourists on Wednesday.
Despite the small number of tourists, albeit Palawan locals, their presence enhanced morale among PPUR employees and surrounding stakeholders of community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) sites.
PPUR Staff are expecting more arrivals in the coming days now that public health measures have relaxed, according to park superintendent Beth Maclang.
“Nakakatuwa na makita ang mga mukha ng community doon na nabuhayan ng loob kasi may guests na. Na-uuplift din ang spirit nila,” Maclang said in a phone interview on Thursday.
“Ngayon [Thursday], mayroon kaming limang bookings. Sa December 4, mayroong lima, sa 15 at 19 mayroong bookings din. Puro mga tagarito lang,” she added.
Maclang also said that now that tourism is back again in PPUR, nearby CBST sites, such as the Hundred Caves and Sabang Falls, are also looking forward to welcoming tourists and earning an income. She added that they are offering discounted rates on their services.
“Almost 160 ang families [ang nagbe-benefit] sa limang CBST sites, pero tatlo pa lang ang operational,” she said.
The PPUR and nearby CBST sites were closed when the COVID-19 crisis began in March 2020 making Sitio Sabang in Barangay Cabayugan a ghost-town and leaving most of the residents without a livelihood.
PPUR reopened in December 2020 to local tourists but was forced to close down again in mid-March due to a surge of COVID-19 cases in Puerto Princesa City.
The reopening of the tourism industry provides a glimmer of hope anew to families who depend on the industry.
“Ini-invite namin ang lahat na muling masilayan ang ganda, Underground River, at the same time makabuhay ng ekonomiya ng mga park communities, especially ang mga nag-ooffer ng services tulad ng mga bangkero, which is 300 families ‘yan. Ang tourism ay nakakaangat ng buhay ng ating mga kababayan,” Maclang added.
Puerto Princesa will also start accepting tourists from outside Palawan on December 8 after several lobbying by the private sector.
Maclang stated that the PPUR and nearby CBSTs are ready to accept these tourists because they have already been approved to be part of the travel bubble.
“Qualified kami for travel bubble kasi one-stop-shop [doon]. Pagdating ng mga tourists doon, may beach, may trekking, may accommodations, may mga kainan,” she added.