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To Build Up Tourism, Philippines Loosens Pandemic Restrictions For Filipinos


Millions of people in the Philippines work in tourism, and it's a key part of that country's economy. But the pandemic obliterated the industry. In an attempt to revive it, the government is loosening restrictions and pushing Filipinos to travel domestically. Here's Ashley Westerman from Manila.


KYRA CABAERO: Room check.


ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: At the Joy Nostalg Hotel & Suites Manila in Pasig, an upscale part of Manila, marketing director Kyra Cabaero shows me around one of the hotel's standard executive rooms.

CABAERO: We have a fully equipped kitchen already in the studio room. It comes with either a king size bed or two twin beds.

WESTERMAN: Crisp white sheets, a plush white couch, white tile floor - the room is pristine.

CABAERO: As you can see, it's actually quite bigger than regular hotel rooms.

WESTERMAN: There's also something a bit different about this room.

CABAERO: We now offer a QR code. So guests can just scan this, and this will connect them with everything about the hotel. So that's the hotel directory, the room service menu.

WESTERMAN: This is just one of the many COVID protocols the hotel has put in place in order for it to become one of a handful in the metro Manila area certified for staycation bookings.

CABAERO: We have already been inspected and audited and are following the standards for safety and health for DOT.

WESTERMAN: That's the Department of Tourism. Cabaero says the hotel has been impacted financially by COVID, so they jumped at the chance when it arose in May for visitors from within the national capital region bubble to book hotel rooms like these to get away while not getting too far away.

This staycation scheme is just one idea the Philippine government has put forth in an effort to restart the country's pandemic-shattered tourism industry. Pre-COVID, the industry made up more than 12% of the country's overall GDP. A large majority of that was domestic travel. In an email statement to NPR, the Department of Tourism says domestic travel will help restart the battered sector. But while the department says it's doing all it can for a safe reopening, many experts are not on board, even with staycations.

JOSHUA SAN PEDRO: There is still some relative risk, especially if we're talking about staycations by people who aren't from the same household.

WESTERMAN: That's Joshua San Pedro, a primary care provider in Manila. Even though the Philippines' case numbers have gone down after a huge spike in April and May, San Pedro says traveling outside of the home is still too risky. Earlier this month, the Philippines also started some domestic travel between provinces, most notably to some beach destinations like Boracay and Palawan. San Pedro says that adds even more risk.

SAN PEDRO: There's still a lot of cases in the provinces. Until maybe testing is better - and then second is really the vaccine rollout.

WESTERMAN: Which has been slow in the Philippines, with just about 2% of the population fully vaccinated to date. E.J. Fletchitero of Marikina City is not vaccinated and says he will not travel right now.

When do you think you will eventually travel?

E J FLETCHITERO: Maybe if we have all get the vaccines.

WESTERMAN: And not yet getting the jab isn't the only thing keeping him home. The 31-year-old cruise ship worker has also not worked in over a year.

FLETCHITERO: (Speaking Tagalog).

WESTERMAN: He says money's a bit tight right now to pay for a ticket or a hotel room.

Jerome Dagpulo, a food delivery driver, shares the sentiment.

JEROME DAGPULO: (Speaking Tagalog).

WESTERMAN: He says he's currently making about 700 pesos per day, the equivalent of $14 American, which he says is barely enough to just live on.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Westerman in Manila.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "RUINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.