By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

The Department of Tourism’s (DoT) first small step on the long road to recovery is to allow locals to have “staycations” in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) such as Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces, along with Cebu City.

Areas under GCQ are where movement of residents are not heavily regulated. It is the second most lenient quarantine classification next to modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), which was implemented last May as the government’s first step in easing the lockdown of Metro Manila and the main island of Luzon implemented mid-March.

Staycations, meanwhile, was defined by Tourism Sec. Bernadette Romulo Puyat as “minimum overnight stays for leisure purposes in a DoT-accredited accommodation enterprise located in proximity with one’s residence.”

This means that Metro Manila residents can have staycations in hotels within Metro Manila as long as residents and establishments abide by Covid-19 regulations as set by their local government units.

For example, a Pasay City resident may check into a Makati hotel for at least 24 hour, as both resident and hotel are within Metro Manila, also known as the National Capital Region.

The Tourism Secretary told local media last week that the proposal was approved  by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases last September 10.

The DoT is set to release the implementing rules covering staycations this week.

President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier batted for the revival of Travel and Tourism – the heaviest hit of all industries by the global coronavirus pandemic – by initially concentrating on local tourism.

Puyat said her Department had recommended staycations as part of their strategy to “explore various ways of re-starting tourism activities during quarantine.”

Tourism had been allowed to re-open to a limited extent as far back as May, under the MGCQ, with some exclusions, notably the likes of Lanao del Sur, Iligan City and Bacolod City, which are under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), the second strictest classification, lasting at least until the end of this month.

The government’s coronavirus task force recently issued a resolution that says “markets of specialized programs” of the Tourism department will now be allowed to stay at hotels, apart from health workers, travelers undergoing mandatory quarantine and workers of allowed industries. However, hotels accepting guests are required to procure a certificate of authority to operate from the DoT.

Such establishments are only allowed to provide “basic accommodation services” to guests and maintain a skeletal in-house workforce.

In a related development, the DoT released last week the guidelines on island and beach operations under the “new normal.”

The health and safety protocols for areas under MGCQ, which take effect immediately, state among others that guests who intend to stay for at least one night in a beach or island destination must present a confirmed booking at a DoT-accredited accommodation establishment.

Confirmed bookings must be listed in the beach’s port of entry. Guests with fever and or flu-like symptoms are not allowed to enter beaches.

Meanwhile, local hotels and resorts have been offering “future use” deals online to Filipino consumers. Rooms and tours are sold at huge discounts, which buyers can then use after the Travel and Tourism industries normalize as expected by next year.

Sold as gift checks, they are not a new concept but they have been selling briskly to a population hungry for leisure activity after more than six months under various forms of quarantine.

Even the smallest resorts have been offering the pre-paid tour packages, with the advance payments being used to defray operational expenses such as salaries of staff who have been retained despite the total absence of customers.