LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte – Tourists started trickling back to Ilocos Norte during the Holy Week, with the provincial government reporting over 14,000 inbound arrivals who stayed at least a night in a local establishment, the highest since the Philippines declared a national COVID-19 spread in March 2020.
Although the figure is barely 3% of the 483,778 visitors reported during the same period in 2019, the provincial government said it could spur revival of livelihood and create more employment opportunities.
The Ilocos Norte tourism office (INTO) said domestic travelers accounted for most arrivals, which peaked on Maundy Thursday, April 14, and Good Friday, April 15.
The long weekend also brought 700,000 day visitors, or those who did not stay overnight in the province’s accommodation facilities, INTO reported. The figure was also the highest recorded so far during the pandemic.
Hotels and accommodations were fully booked in popular destinations like Pagudpud town and the capital city of Laoag.
This forced tourists to look for alternatives, spreading revenue to other communities, the provincial government said.
Before the pandemic, Ilocos Norte hosted about 3.8 million tourists annually, data from the local tourism office showed.
Lockdowns and travel curbs led to P17-billion losses in potential income during the first year of the pandemic.
The Federated Hotels and Resorts of Pagudpud Inc. said that accommodation facilities were fully booked from April 8 to April 18, and described the situation as “lively and bustling,” at par with pre-pandemic days.
Nelly Cristobal, owner of the Casa Victoria Resort, said in a press statement that she had to hire additional part-time workers to help their 30 regular staff.
“This is the first time [during the pandemic] I have ever seen such a large number of tourists,” said Cristobal, adding that it was a “relief that things are getting back to normal.”
Pagudpud town, with its serene and crystal clear beaches, has always been a top tourist drawer, with over 116,000 tourists visiting its beach park during the same season in 2019.
Most travel restrictions in the province have been eased under COVID-19 Alert level 1. Fully-vaccinated tourists would only need to show their vaccination cards upon entry.
At least 2,500 tourism workers in the province are already fully vaccinated.
Ilocos Norte was the first province in the country to receive a “safe travel” stamp from the World Tourism Council and the Department of Tourism for being compliant with safe travel protocols and other requirements. Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat issued the certificate on September 27, 2021.
During the Holy Week, over 200 tourism workers, utility personnel, and senior citizen guides deployed in 32 tourist destinations in Ilocos Norte were hired by the provincial government. – Rappler.com
John Michael Mugas is a Luzon-based reporter and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Professional Journalism Fellowship.