21 LGUs open for Region 1 – Baguio tourism hub

BAGUIO CITY — All is set for reopening the tourism sector in Baguio City and Region 1 with 21 cities and towns in La Union, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, and Ilocos Norte (BLUPISIN) initially participating with the Ridge & Reef (RnR) Travel Corridor project.

Baguio City will kick-off the plan, opening its borders for tourists from Region 1 on September 22.

Ilocos Sur will open the Heritage City of Vigan along with its neighboring towns of Caoayan and Bantay. Meanwhile, Ilocos Norte has the municipalities of Badoc, Currimao, Paoay, Batac, Laoag, Pasuquin, Burgos, Bangui, Pagudpod, Adams, Sarrat, and Vintar.

However, governors of the two Ilocos provinces said they would only start welcoming tourists by October.

“We will not be admitting tourists immediately. We can go visit Baguio starting September 21 but Baguio (residents) cannot visit us yet. It starts from there and it will be a learning process on how best we can open up to tourists,” explained Ilocos Norte Governor Matthew Manotoc.

In a virtual presser on September 15, the governor said they are also looking at opening the borders for Metro Manila tourists. He said that those planning to visit would be required to undergo an RT-PCR test and travel through pre-arranged trips.

Meanwhile, Ilocos Sur Governor Ryan Singson explained they chose to delay the RnR Travel Corridor opening for the province to provide ample time to prepare. According to him, in an earlier talk with DOT Secretary Bernadette Puyat, they agreed on the October opening.

The governor said that the towns of Sta. Maria, Santiago, San Esteban, and Magsingal may eventually open for the program.

Other tourist towns and cities that will be open are San Juan, Bauang, and San Gabriel in La Union; and Manaoag, Alaminos City, and Bolinao in Pangasinan.

Gradual opening

Three phases composed the tourism program, with travelers from the initial participating local government for one to two months. Destinations will also be limited to the towns and areas identified by the provinces. Stay will only be limited to five days.

This may expand to nearby LGUs with the same quarantine categories after the pilot period. Authorities are hoping to include Regions 2 and 3 for the second phase. Tours will consist of multi-province travels and stay for more than five days.

Sub-national travel will open possible in the third or fourth month after the launch. LGUs’ will also accommodate day tours and do-it-yourself trips.

The RnR Travel Corridor Technical Working Group will regularly evaluate each phase’s implementation and issue appropriate guidelines. They will also review issuances from the National IATF, DOT, DTI, and DOH for necessary revisions of BLUPISIN travel guidelines.

The agreement and guidelines formulated for the BLUPISIN RnR Travel Corridor are effective unless the LGUs involved unanimously rescind their commitment to the program.

Strict protocol

Individuals wanting to visit the provinces will abide by strict protocols. They have to register online with the LGU destination’s Online Visitors Registration System (OVRS).

Visitors for the Summer Capital have to book their tour using the Baguio Visitor Information and Travel Assistance (Visita). People intending to visit Ilocos Norte have to preregister using a web-based tourist registration system (stayin.ilocosnorte.ph).

Travelers have to undergo COVID-19 testing. Local tour operators accredited by the DOT will provide travel packages and arrange the trips with LGU tourism offices’ assistance. Tourists are only allowed to go in establishments authorized by the DOT and those they declared in their travel itinerary.

They must also secure the necessary documents such as identification cards, travel authority, medical certificate, and accomplished health declaration form. Tourists are also obliged to present COVID-19 test results taken 24 to 48 hours before travel in the border control stations.

During the first phase, immunocompromised and those with comorbidities will also be prohibited from traveling for leisure. Tours will also be limited only to asymptomatic individuals. However, it will be up to the RnR TWG to recommend amendments to the guidelines.

Benguet urges coordination

On September 1, the BLUPISIN LGUs signed a memorandum of understanding to gradually reopen the tourism sector by creating a “tourism bubble.” Baguio City’s initiative earned cheers from the tourism sector and participating LGUs. However, neighboring Benguet towns expressed displeasure for the lack of consultation.

The Baguio-La Trinidad-Itogon-Sablan-Tuba-Tublay (BLISTT) cluster has yet to meet to coordinate and agree on border protocols. DOT-CAR called a meeting on September 14 to discuss the guidelines, but only the LISTT LGUs were present. La Trinidad Mayor Romeo Salda recommended the inclusion of other Benguet towns outside LISTT. He underscored that tourists might also take the Cervantes road and enter through Mankayan town or the Nueva Vizcaya road and enter through Bokod town.

In a statement, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong clarified that they are not bypassing their neighbors. He also noted that they recognize that coordination is crucial since travelers have to pass through Benguet towns. The mayor said they would coordinate on border control and checkpoint management once the National IATF approved the guidelines. ●