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Philippines eyes Phuket’s Sandbox model for tourism reopening

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As it gears up for the reopening of international borders, the Philippines is looking at the possibility of replicating Phuket’s Sandbox model, while at the same time working to ease travel protocols.

Tourism secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said at the Philippine Travel Exchange (PHITEX) 2021 in Subic that as early as May this year, the government has already been working on setting up green lanes, similar to Phuket’s Sandbox scheme that allows fully vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries to enter the Thai resort island without quarantine.

Tourists at Casa Manila in Intramuros Manila Philippines
Philippines keen to replicate Thailand’s Sandbox scheme; tourists at Casa Manila in Intramuros, Manila pictured

Romulo-Puyat pointed out that as authorities wish to ease travel restrictions, especially for fully vaccinated tourists, more Filipinos are getting inoculated while all tourism workers nationwide are expected to be vaccinated before year-end.

It is “imperative” for the Philippines to return to the international stage and the sandbox model “seems to be the most viable”, given its direct air access, opined C9 Hotelworks managing director, Bill Barnett.

“Cebu is the logical choice given it’s an island and has direct international routes,” said Barnett.

Meantime, in a webinar by the British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and Santos Knight Frank, tourism undersecretary Verna Buensuceso said travel corridors within Asia is possible as they are looking at green lanes with say, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan going directly to specific destinations in the Philippines.

It can include specialised charters to destinations that are prepared to accept foreign visitors with specialised protocols for groups coming in, Buensuceso said.

And as the country prepares for foreign arrivals, especially for fully vaccinated individuals, Buensuceso said that authorities are “looking at offering protocols that will be a bit more relaxed compared with what we have today”.

She said the country is also looking at the “interoperability within our own system” of the EU Covid certificate and IATA travel pass, even as it is also “in the process of putting together a vaccination passport for our own needs”.

“We are exploring these avenues now to make travel a bit more convenient across destinations and markets,” Buensuceso shared.

She estimated a recovery period of two-and-a-half to four years for Philippine tourism because that is also the outlook for the international landscape as per projections by UNWTO, PATA and WTTC.

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