Cebu welcomes tourists with big smiles and sale

Proudly Cebuano Handmade guitars from Lapu-Lapu city.

After a year of lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, tourism has gingerly been opening up and is now going full blast.

The island of Cebu, which has been one of the Philippines’ biggest tourist destinations, is now enticing tourists with big discounts on tourism products with its month-long I Love Cebu sale.

I Love Cebu is a “sustained campaign to bring back tourism to Cebu,” said Alfred M. Reyes, the general manager of Bai Hotel Cebu and the recently elected president of Hotel Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu, Inc. (HRRAC), which is spearheading the initiative together with the Department of Tourism (DoT), several local government units and the private sector from the hospitality industry, including the Cebu Association of Tour Operators.

“This initiative encourages local travel to help revive tourism exactly after a year since the nationwide lockdown,” he added. “I Love Cebu will provide an online selling platform for consumers, for hotels, resorts and tour operators to offer the best accommodation, transportation and tour packages. This is also an avenue to highlight Cebu’s unique selling points — its history, culture, good food, the beautiful beaches and the vibrant marine life.”

Located in Central Visayas, Cebu has been a very popular destination.

“Before this pandemic struck, Cebu was the country’s second most visited destination by foreign tourists, surpassed only by Boracay Island. In 2019, one of the best years for tourism, if not the best ever, 3.4 million foreign tourists and 3.2 million domestic tourists visited the island of Cebu,” shared DoT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat during the I Love Cebu launch on 16 March.

“As Covid-19 put a lid on many tourist vacation plans, Cebu’s tourism industry, just like other destinations, suffered a great slump in 2020, affecting travel and tourism-related industries across the board,” she added.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Cebu tourism harder than any other major economic sector,” Reyes affirmed. “The sudden and unexpected falling tourist arrivals put on hold the many social and economic benefits that tourism delivers. Without a doubt, the tourism industry has been affected by this global crisis. The closing of borders, airports and hotels as well as restrictions on mass gatherings, land travel and related services put around thousands of jobs at risk.”

“As someone who has worked for three decades in the hospitality industry, this by far has been the all-time worst,” he emphasized.

If there is a positive side to the pandemic, the lockdowns enabled nature to repair itself.

“The closure of tourism activities for many months allowed not only the seas but as well as the natural attractions in the province to take a breather. For example, dolphins can be spotted frolicking off the waters of Moalboal early in the morning close from the shore,” related DoT Region VII senior tourism operations officer Riza Marie Macaibay.

After several months, cities and towns in Cebu began allowing tourists in.

“Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City and the province of Cebu opened to domestic tourism at different times,” Macaibay revealed. “Cebu City started accepting domestic tourists since 16 November 2020, while Lapu-Lapu City opened to domestic tourism on 21 October 2020. Cebu province, including the city of Mandaue, opened to domestic tourism last 22 February.”

Now, these cities and other stakeholders are banding together for I Love Cebu.

“This is a huge step as we embarked on a digital campaign to promote tourist attractions. Revitalizing tourism activities has become one of the primary concerns,” Reyes said. “In the short run, domestic tourism is expected to play a vital role in supporting the initial recovery phase for travel, the very goal of I Love Cebu.”

Margie Munsayac, vice president for sales and marketing of homegrown Bluewater Resorts, shared that the sale is participated in by a total of 60 Department of Tourism (DoT)-accredited establishments—18 tour operators and 42 hotels and resorts—offering discounts of up to 70 percent on accommodations and other products. The sale is happening entirely online at the website from 21 March to 30 April in time for the dry months, which are traditionally regarded as apt for vacationing. Health protocols are observed on all establishments.

“In regards to the resorts and hotels compliant to the health protocols, all DOT-accredited accommodation establishments are compliant to the health and safety protocols stated in the DOT Guidelines for Accommodations under Community Quarantine. The provincial government of Cebu also issued an executive order that establishments must apply for a DoT accreditation and inspected by the provincial tourism office, if they comply to the health and safety protocols stated in EO 2020-20A, prior to resumption of operations,” Macaibay said.

Incoming tourists are expected to follow the protocols as well as secure other requirements, which vary from city to city or town to town.

“Health protocols must have the standard minimum requirements by IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) and DoH (Department of Health). Stricter protocols though is the norm for all of us here in Cebu,” Munsayac said.

She also said that it “is only Cebu City that requires the negative RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests, but Lapu-Lapu City does not require any testing nor travel requirements. Mandaue City and the province Cebu require only a medical certificate and confirmed accommodation booking.” Additionally, the wearing of personal air purifiers is currently required by the Lapu-Lapu City, based on their latest EO. They are aligning this protocol with the province of Cebu’s requirements, according to Lapu-Lapu City Tourism, Cultural and Historical Affairs commissioner Sunshine Lim.

The people behind I Love Cebu are optimistic about the initiative and hope that it will spur the continued reopening the island’s tourism industry.

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