Tourism helped put Puerto Princesa on the map. Now, after a super typhoon that came in the middle of a pandemic, it might help save the local economy too.
Life in Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan, depends largely on tourism. From small businesses that cater to tourists to infrastructure projects like hotels, almost 15,000 people benefit from the sector in one way or another.
So, when the pandemic forced the city to restrict the entry of tourists, it also restricted the one of the main sources of livelihoods there. P5 billion of potential tourist receipts had been lost every year for the past two years, according to Demetrio “Toto” Alvior, Jr., city tourism officer.
“Now, we’re on third year and losses continue to pile-up every day. But so far, the worst was when another disaster struck while the pandemic was still raging,” Alvior said, recalling the damage brought about by Super Typhoon Odette last December 2021.
With people being told to stay at home, tourist destinations were losing money across the country. According to the Department of Tourism, visitor receipts dropped by 83 percent in the first year of the pandemic, amounting to P82.24 billion in 2020 from P482.15 billion in 2019.
Puerto Princesa reopened its shores to domestic visitors last December 8, Alvior said. But then Odette hit the city more than a week after, damaging the people’s access to electricity, drinkable water, and even to the outside world.
Worse, Alvior said, thousands were left homeless since their houses were destroyed by the devastating typhoon.
The damage to tourism infrastructure and livelihood reached more than P300 million, he said, citing the data collected by the tourism office, Office of the Civil Defense (OCD), and the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO).
This, on top of the damage brought about by the pandemic, had at times brought the sense of loss in the city “beyond comprehension,” said Alvior.
But with the cooperation of the public and private sector, the city is determined and is paving the way to recover.
“For the past two years since the outbreak, we never ceased to hope that the future will be better. The year 2022 is no different,” Alvior said.
The renewed sense of optimism comes more than a week after the Philippines started accepting fully vaccinated foreign tourists from 157 visa-free countries. They no longer have to undergo quarantine upon arrival.
With the borders now reopened, Puerto Princesa is ready to welcome back foreign tourists. The city is one of the popular tourist destinations in the country has already fully vaccinated all of their tourism workers.
The experience will offer visitors a much-needed break from the monotony of nearly three years of pandemic restrictions, while also giving locals an opportunity to recover and build back better.
“Our goal in 2022 is not only to recover but to further expand the tourism industry in the city. We plan on completing the cruise ship port as well as other man-made tourist attractions to offer more options to travelers visiting our city,” he said.
Puerto Princesa is now inviting local and foreign tourists back on its shores, home to the famous Underground River, which is one of the seven wonders of the world.
Helping small tourism-related businesses in Puerto Princesa will also help the local economy. Those who are interested to visit Puerto Princesa are encouraged to visit the city’s official Facebook page to know about the latest quarantine protocols.
“The key to recovery is to enable and support the private sector to keep or resume their business operations. Our biggest partners, apart from other government agencies, are small businesses,” Alvior said.
Helping small tourism-related businesses in Puerto Princesa — by patronizing local cuisine and booking in hotels, for example — will also help the bigger picture, he said.
“We are cautiously optimistic that Puerto Princesa will once again become a very vibrant city filled with tourists from all over the world, enjoying good food, sauntering on our pristine beaches, and feel loved by the hospitality of our people,” Alvior said.