Philippines Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat has revealed talks are underway over a potential travel bubble with South Korea that would see fully-vaccinated Korean visitors become the first allowed quarantine-free entry since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV this week, Romulo-Puyat said the Philippine government was preparing for a gradual reopening of its borders following a dramatic fall in COVID-19 cases and rising vaccination rates, particularly in the National Capital Region.
South Korea is the Philippines’ number one source tourism market, providing almost 2 million visitors in 2019 ahead of both China and the United States. It has also inspired the dramatic expansion of the casino industry in Clark Freeport Zone, north of Manila, in recent years with South Koreans accounting for around 70% of Clark’s annual GGR.
“We’ve been talking to Korea,” Romulo-Puyat said. “They are our number one tourists and they want [to arrange] chartered flights to Bohol but they are trying to figure out the quarantine requirements [when returning to Korea].
“We’re still in talks because we can remove the quarantine [requirement] now but the problem is going back. The problem r now is that even if there are no days in quarantine when coming to the Philippines, going back to Asia is quite strict.
“We are hoping as the vaccination rate increases and cases go down that there will be no quarantine for people going back to their countries. That’s what is being discussed right now.
“So we are looking at all the tourist destinations but it is really Korea that has shown interest in travelling to the country.”
The Philippines has seen daily COVID-19 cases plummet from a high of more than 27,000 in early September to 1,974 on Thursday, aided by a comprehensive vaccine rollout in Manila where the vaccination rate for those aged 12 and above now exceeds 88%.