Hotels allowed to accept tourists in areas under modified GCQ

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 26) – Staycations and hotel bookings will again be opened for tourists in areas which will be placed under modified general community quarantine, the Department of Tourism said.

Administrative Order 2020-002 allows hotels, resorts, motels, homestays, and other accommodation facilities to accept tourists as well as business travelers in MGCQ areas, but are limited to a 50 percent capacity. Areas under modified GCQ face more relaxed restrictions, as these are considered at low risk of a localized COVID-19 outbreak.

Other hotel facilities will be allowed to resume operations too. "Ancillary establishments within the premises, such as restaurants, cafés, bars, gyms, spas, and the like, shall be allowed to operate at 50 percent operational capacity only," read the May 22 order signed by Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.

The tourism sector is said to be hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, as local and global travel restrictions force tour operators and lodging facilities to go dark. The National Economic and Development Authority has pegged industry losses at about ₱60.25 billion for a two-month shutdown, but that has already stretched longer.

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At present, hotels can only cater to guests with prior bookings, long-staying guests, travelers in transit, distressed or repatriated overseas Filipino workers doing their 14-day quarantine, stranded passengers, health workers, government frontliners, and private employees billeted by their companies.

Cebu City and Mandaue City, which continue to experience a high number of infections, remain under enhanced community quarantine until Sunday. Select areas like Metro Manila are under modified ECQ, while the rest of the country is under GCQ. The government's task force will review these classifications this week, with the May 31 deadline in sight.

Under the rules, hotels and other accommodation establishments must secure a DOT Certificate of Authority to Operate before resuming commercial operations, including accepting guests and operating in-house or takeout food services. Failure to do so will merit penalties, the agency said.

The DOT also requires hotels to submit a report every Friday about their operations, such as the number of staff on duty; the number, nationality, classification, and length of stay of guests; companies or businesses which booked their stay; as well as the procedure for food preparation and delivery services and kitchen safety protocols, among others.

Rules are stiff for areas that remain under ECQ, modified ECQ, and GCQ: health workers and OFWs in hotels should have individual rooms. Other tenants can share rooms provided that beds are positioned at least two meters apart and separated by a divider. They are also banned from mingling with occupants from other rooms to prevent possible infections.

However, hotels are allowed to maintain a skeleton workforce for in-house staff in GCQ areas.

For all locations, minimum health standards such as the wearing of face masks, temperature checks, social distancing, and frequent handwashing must be observed at all time, according to the guidelines. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said during his Tuesday media briefing that authorities will be using the province of Bohol – with the Chocolate Hills among its popular attractions – as a model for tourism amid the pandemic, as the province is close to seeing a further relaxation of stay-at-home rules.

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Establishments are told to charge the "lowest possible rates" to guests, especially for OFWs and employees housed in these facilities. The DOT warned those slapping "opportunistic" prices that they could be punished.

Meanwhile, hotel operations will resume at full capacity in "new normal" areas – or those removed from any form of community quarantine – subject to minimum health standards imposed on guests and staff.

'New normal'

Additional guidelines released by the DOT on Monday allowed hotels, resorts, and similar facilities in areas without any quarantine restrictions to operate like before, but will have to impose strict guidelines on handling guests. This includes requiring guests to fill up health declaration forms, thermal scans, and listen to thorough briefings about COVID-19 prevention.

Visitors found with flu-like symptoms or a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher will not be allowed to enter the facility and will be referred to the doctor on duty, the nearest hospital, or the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team covering the area.

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Hotel staff, particularly those at the front desk, must wear protective gear while on duty.

Rooms must still be limited to two occupants with a one-meter distance between beds, but the regulator said families will be allowed to share rooms in areas under few restrictions.

All rooms must be thoroughly disinfected and left empty for a time after guests check out. Linen and washable items must be soaked in disinfecting solution for at least 15 minutes before being tossed to the laundry, while mattresses and pillows must be disinfected separately.

In-room dining is also encouraged, but minibars and other in-room food and beverage are highly discouraged. Buffets are also thumbed down, with the DOT saying that food must be served by restaurant crew straight to diners.

Counting on novelty

The Tourism Congress of the Philippines said the goal is to ensure that tourists "feel safe when they start coming back," said league president Jose Clemente III.

The group backed the DOT's latest policies, saying that tourism-related companies would rather err on the side of caution than risk a spike in infections.

"No doubt, we are one of the worst affected industries with revenues practically gone and wiped out. Nonetheless, we continue to be hopeful," Clemente told CNN Philippines.

A lot of aspects of the dream vacation will definitely change, but the group hopes it will be enough to balance relaxation and safety.

"Guest experience will definitely be different from what we were accustomed to and will remain that way until a vaccine is developed. Some aspects will need getting used to but for people willing to travel, these new guidelines can be presented as a novelty to make the experience more palatable," Clemente added.