How Bohol Is Bouncing Back, One Tour at a Time
The island province is an all-in-one package.
(SPOT.ph) It goes without saying that the province of Bohol is a marvel, a wonder to behold. Few provinces could lay claim to being an all-in-one package, a smorgasbord of a destination with the full shebang from magnificent sights to a rich history, a distinct culture to a burgeoning culinary scene. No surprise that the island province ranks among the Philippines’ top tourist draws. It also comes as no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the province hard and stalled its primary source of revenue—tourism.
When Bohol reopened its doors to leisure travel on December 15, 2020, it was in a bid to revive what was once one of the Philippines most vibrant tourism hotspots. However, with the pandemic still in full swing, and vaccines arriving only in trickles, the province has yet to see an uptick in tourist arrivals.
How Many Are Affected by Bohol's Ailing Tourism Sector?
In a press dinner hosted by the Bohol Provincial Government and the Provincial Tourism Council, Governor Arthur C. Yap talked about their efforts in restoring an ailing tourism sector.
"We have to convince visitors that it is safe to come to Bohol, but we also have to convince our local stakeholders that it is safe to accept the visitors," shared Yap. "Kailangan ma-assure din natin ang local residents na safe. That really encapsulates the story of Bohol. It’s always been a tug-of-war that we have to convince people to come as well as—more than anything else—the stakeholders that it’s safe to accept visitors."
When asked how much tourism contributes to the province’s economy, Yap gave the exact figure, "78%. That’s why iyan ang problema. Imagine ang value, ang GVA, gross value added ng agriculture sa Bohol is only 5% of our revenues. Ang kita namin galing sa OFW remittances at tourism. ‘Yon ang dalawang critical."
One can only imagine how big of a blow the pandemic is to the province’s economy. Data has shown that in the period when they opened their doors again on December 15, 2020 to January 31, 2021, they only saw a total of 1,200 guest arrivals, a far cry from the 30,000 visitors that come and go on a daily basis pre-COVID.
This resulted in a staggering loss of jobs. "Wala, balik sa farming," Yap said. "Lahat ng fishermen diyan, ‘yong waiters dito, ‘yong mga [nasa] transport." He thinks that unless there is a vaccine, the tourism slump will persist. "May fear factor talaga."
How Are They Reviving Tourism?
Yap shared that even before the pandemic pummeled Bohol’s tourist sector, they already had new strategies on how to further boost tourism. "Bago tayo shinut down ng COVID, binibigyan na namin ng bagong flavor [‘yong local tourism] by building a cultural itinerary. ‘Yon ang bini-build up namin. Aside from visiting churches, we wanted to bring in a culinary experience with it para may impact din sa farmers. Tapos may handicraft experience rin," Yap said. He shared how this new approach has shone the spotlight on aspects of Bohol outside its most famous attractions.
"Ang chairman namin sa Provincial Tourism Council, si Atty. [Lucas] Nunag, very early on, congressman pa ako, pinag-uusapan na namin e. Ang sabi niya sa akin, we have to build roots and itineraries around our cultural icons. So ‘yon ang ginawa namin. Kahit may COVID, we continued promoting our churches. Kahit ‘yong Christmas namin, di namin itinigil. ‘Yong Christmas namin was highlighting the belen and the choral tradition. Kasi ganun sa Bohol, ang bawat bahay may sariling belen tapos kinakantahan ng mga pamilya. That’s the tradition here."
He also shared how they had online choral competitions last Christmas with over 200 participants. Many of those who joined lost their jobs, hence, in a way the provincial government was able to help the artists.
With that said, they have taken measures to look after the well-being of Boholano artists, "In Bohol, the artists are well taken care of," said Nunag who was also present during the press dinner. "Fortunately, since we have full support, the artists are well fed. They have lost their jobs, especially singing in the resorts, but they are given opportunities," he added. The provincial government initiated a program called "Dasig," which means inspiration. Artists perform to inspire the locals, visitors, and those in quarantine facilities. The provincial government has provisions for food and talent fees.
If there’s one silver lining, it’s that the province has seen a surge in local tourism, thanks to discounted accommodations and tours. These days, 19 out of 20 tourists, or 95%, are Boholanos.
Your Bohol Travel Guide in the New Normal
Despite the need to bolster tourism once more, the governor is not keen on discontinuing a negative RT-PCR swab test as a mandatory requirement to all inbound travelers. "Hindi ko tatanggalin kung ako," he emphasized. "Remember that this is a province of 1.5 million. From March last year to March this year, ang total infections namin is only a thousand plus. Thousand lang, di man 1,100. Ang recovery namin 90%, ang deaths namin 20%. So we’d like to keep [the tests]."
What to Bring (as of March 1, 2021):
- Negative RT-PCR test result (swab or saliva). Test should be taken within 72 hours to travel date.
- Confirmed booking at a Department of Tourism-accredited accommodation.
- Registered account through Bohol Tourism's website. You can secure your QR code through the myboholtourist app.
What to Do
Most of Bohol’s banner destinations have already been reopened, but all tours must be pre-arranged through a Department of Tourism (DOT)-accredited tour operator. Bookings can be made through Bohol Tourism’s website.
Bohol Countryside Tour
This is the most popular tour since it allows visits to several signature attractions in Bohol in one package. Tour takes approximately eight hours using a private vehicle. The countryside tour itinerary includes visits to the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsier Sanctuary, and a cruise along Loboc River with lunch onboard.
This half-day tour lets you visit Panglao’s famed Alona white sand beach for a swim, a local shell museum, heritage sites in Panglao and Dauis, and Hinagdanan Cave which has a cave pool where you can take a refreshing dip. An organic lunch at the well-loved Bohol Bee Farm is included.
Abatan Firefly Tour
This hour-long tour will take you upstream along the beautiful Abatan River and its lush mangroves for firefly watching. Spot the trees where fireflies congregate like Christmas lights. The tour starts at the Abatan Main Village Center in the town of Cortes, which is approximately 30 minutes downtown Tagbilaran City. Guests may choose to take a kayak or a traditional bandong boat with an option to include a meal.
Pamilacan Island is approximately 45 minutes from the town of Baclayon. The tour starts at 5:30 a.m., leaving Baclayon port on a motorized boat. It takes tourists around the gorgeous island of Pamilacan for two hours to spot pods of dolphins hunting tuna for breakfast. The tour takes about eight hours, and the boat usually leaves Pamilacan to return to Baclayon by 1 p.m. to avoid the afternoon tide. Tourists may snorkel and swim once they are on Pamilacan Island. Snorkel gear, fins, and other swimming devices are available for rent.
Balicasag Island is famous for diving activities. Visitors can likewise snorkel and island hop to Puntod Island in Panglao. It is ideal to leave Panglao for the tour before 7 a.m. and return before 2 p.m. to avoid the increasing tide in the afternoon. Snorkel gear, fins, and other swimming devices are available for rent. There are local restaurants on the island, but packed lunch may also be pre-arranged with the tour handler.
For updates on travel requirements, follow Bohol Tourism on Facebook.
We are now on Quento! Download the app and enjoy more articles and videos from SPOT.ph and other Summit Media websites.