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Local airlines seeking simplified travel rules for fully vaccinated people

Airlines are hoping simplified travel guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals will help boost their business. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

THE AIRLINE and tourism industries are seeking simplified travel guidelines for individuals who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), in order to hasten the recovery of the pandemic-battered sectors.

Incentivizing fully vaccinated customers, which is already being done by some airlines in the United States, is also seen as a strategy to encourage air travel and promote vaccination among Filipinos.

Low-cost carrier Philippines AirAsia, Inc. said in a statement on Tuesday that it is “currently looking at providing incentives for fully vaccinated individuals not only to stir the demand for safe air travel but also to encourage everyone to take the shot.”

Cebu Pacific, operated by Cebu Air, Inc., said the best way to provide incentive is by making the process simpler for passengers.

“Our recent passenger surveys show that people want to travel, but their main concerns are travel requirements and restrictions. If processes were standardized across the industry, then domestic travel will become easier for all,” Candice A. Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice-president for marketing and customer service, told BusinessWorld in a phone message on Wednesday.

She noted that the budget airline has continuously provided low fares throughout the pandemic, including its trademark “piso fares.”

Roberto C.O. Lim, executive director and vice-chairman of the Air Carriers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (ACAP), said a green lane for fully vaccinated tourists being pushed by the Tourism department is a “good initiative to safely open the country to foreign travelers.”

“This has to be accompanied by proper protocols on the ground upon arrival of the vaccinated passengers. If you will subject them to queue, then it will dampen their interest to travel to the Philippines,” Mr. Lim told BusinessWorld in a phone message on Tuesday.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) Gilbert F. Santa Maria said the flag carrier is looking forward to welcoming more travelers from the United States and other countries when arrival protocols for vaccinated passengers are put in place.

“A good number of our passengers flying in from the US have completed their full vaccine doses. We could welcome more travelers from the US and other countries with favorable epidemiological situations, such as Singapore, Australia, Israel and Korea,” he said in a statement.

Philippines AirAsia Spokesperson Steve F. Dailisan said a green lane will encourage leisure travelers who are concerned over the different requirements.

“This will be further reinforced by the implementation of uniform travel requirements through a digital travel pass,” he added.

The Tourism department said that some countries have eased border restrictions and opened up major tourist destinations to fully vaccinated foreign visitors.

“We must keep pace with our neighbors and the rest of the world in slowly reopening our tourist destinations,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said in a phone message on Tuesday.

Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Jose C. Clemente III said green lanes should be opened in a safe and secure manner.

“Even if the travelers are vaccinated, we have to ensure that the frontliners in their destinations are also vaccinated because vaccinated travelers are still possible virus carriers,” he said.

Transport expert Rene S. Santiago, however, noted that efforts to promote tourism amid an on-going pandemic would be useless if “unscientific” government restrictions remain in place.

Mr. Santiago criticized the 2,000 passengers per day limit at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. “They impose restrictions based solely on the numbers they picked up from the sky,” he said.

He noted that local airlines can follow the example of US carriers that provide incentives for vaccinated customers.

ACAP’s Mr. Lim suggested that vaccinated passengers should be excluded from the 2,000 daily passenger arrival quota.

“The Philippines should also adopt green lanes for Filipinos by importing internationally accepted systems of another country with its own green lanes, so we also benefit when traveling abroad,” he said.

“In domestic travel, you also need to adopt green lanes between two domestic points. Local government units must cooperate,” Mr. Lim added.

Tourism Congress’ Mr. Clemente said there should be continued efforts to promote tourist destinations to the international market to keep the Philippines in the consciousness of foreign travelers.

“It is working. We are now receiving more inquiries for next year. Travelers from Europe and the United States are really itching to travel,” he said. “The increase has been 20%, as of May, from where we were a year ago.”

“A lot of them want to come in by the first quarter of 2022, but they are being realistic. They said they could be flexible depending on the situation that prevails in the country at the time,” Mr. Clemente added.

Mr. Santiago said airlines, hotels, and travel companies should agree to offer a “lockdown” tourism package.

“The idea is like you are locked down in a resort for 10 days, which is equivalent to a quarantine,” he said.

With the pace of vaccination in the country, local and domestic leisure travels may go back to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, Mr. Santiago noted.

“You are vaccinating 60,000 to 65,000 people a day. They said they can raise it 200,000; but with that, you will still need two to three years,” he said.