Today's hyper-developed world sometimes makes us long for a portal to the past. But visitors to Boracay might be forgiven for thinking they’ve journeyed back in time as they step onto its powder-soft sands.
Refreshed following months of being off-limits due to the 2020 pandemic, the Philippines’ most famous island is harking back to a golden era – with deserted beaches, a lush unspoiled interior, and peaceful resorts reminiscent of its days as the ultimate perfect idyll.
It’s like it was in the 1970s. The sea is so clear and the beaches are so clean.
"Boracay has faced various challenges over the years: typhoons, enforced closures, and now the pandemic. But the beauty of the island has endured,” says Datu Yap, a municipal councilor who belongs to one of the founding families on the island.
Despite its old world charm, Boracay is far from retro in its handling of the pandemic. Health and hygiene measures have been introduced to ensure the safety and peace of mind of travelers at this time. So, much like other popular destinations around the Philippines, Boracay is also gearing up to safely welcome back visitors.
Hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and other tourism-related enterprises are required to comply with health and safety guidelines laid down by the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) and enforced by the provincial and local governments.
The guidelines include regular temperature checks, documentation for effective contact tracing, a compulsory health declaration upon arrival, and mandatory wearing of face masks.
Physical distancing of at least a meter is required — even for those exploring the aquamarine waters near Boracay and other diving hotspots around the country, such as the beautiful island of Bohol.
Other provisions include feet sanitizing mats at hotel and restaurant entrances and use of disposable gloves when handling cash or documents, or materials that are passed from person to person.
The guidelines have been introduced to ensure optimal reassurance for guests during “the new normal”. These cautious measures are expected to remain in place until such a time that the disease is fully eradicated and no longer poses a risk.
“The pandemic has been destructive, but it has also forced us to look at the bigger picture and get creative for the road ahead.”
“Our housekeeping team has been retrained to meet enhanced standards of sanitization. We are making booking arrangements more flexible to mitigate the uncertainty of the travel situation. And we are also providing guests with kits that include face masks, sanitizer, and compact, customized guides to Boracay. This will help minimize personal contact between guests and staff,” says Wesley van der Voort, resort manager at Villa Caemilla Beach on Boracay.
With its low Covid-19 case count and stringent protocols in place, Boracay is well placed to lead from the front as the tourism industry in the Philippines reopens.
Rolling out the red carpet
Just under a four-hour drive from Metro Manila, Baguio has long been a favored getaway for domestic tourists seeking relief from the tropical heat of the lowlands. Visitor highlights range from the city’s spectacular cathedral to Mines View Park, an overlook offering outstanding vistas of Baguio's “mineral bowl” where gold, silver, and other ores were once quarried, and beyond to the Cordillera ranges.
“The last few months have been very stressful for everyone, so Baguio is a perfect place for people to come and reconnect with nature in a cool, relaxing climate,” says Arlene R. Nang, general manager of Rose Bowl, a popular Baguio restaurant.
With a strategy that promoted robust contact tracing helping to keep cases of Covid-19 at a manageable level, local tourism leaders are marketing the city as a safe destination during the “new normal”.
“The people of the Cordillera are traditionally very community-focused,” adds Nang. “This collective spirit has helped us come together to ensure that protocols are met to ensure that Baguio emerges in a position of strength.”
Like Boracay and Baguio, the island province of Bohol has been recognized nationally as a model for successful local government management of the pandemic. The island is doubling down on DOT’s guidelines to introduce its own Ultimate Bohol Experience (UBE) accreditation for all tourism establishments that wish to reopen. The Bohol-specific seal mandates the use of renewable energy and compliance with the province’s sewage treatment requirements and carrying capacity.
“We want to check their (energy) footprint because that is what Bohol is all about,” Bohol governor Arthur Yap told the Philippine News Agency. “It's about sustainable eco-agritourism so we want to protect our patrimony to make sure that this is going to be here for ages to come.”
Sustainability is highly important for many in the Philippines’ tourism industry as destinations begin to reopen — refreshed and in some ways reinvigorated following months of lockdown. In Boracay, even long-term residents have been taken aback at the swift regeneration of the island’s natural environment.
Prioritizing safety and hygiene is top of mind for travelers, and government agencies and the tourism industry in the Philippines are rising to the occasion to ensure the country remains a wonderful holiday destination.
“Visitors can feel reassured by the precautions we have made, but they can also feel relaxed,” says Paolo Cocchionero, owner of Aria Cucina Italiana, a long-standing restaurant on Boracay. “It’s impossible not to feel at ease when you are enjoying food and drink with friends or family and looking at a Boracay sunset.”
While the tourism experience may have subtly shifted in the Philippines, the spirit of its people remains the bedrock of warm and genuine hospitality in the archipelago.
“The lockdown has helped boost the environment,” echoes Russel Cruz, chairman of Boracay Water Sports Association. “And I am confident that proper management and implementation of environmental laws will maintain the beauty of the island as tourists start to return.”
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