An awesome view overlooking one of the nicest sights in the Philippines | Screengrab from a Department of Tourism video
On February 10, 2022, a milestone two years in the making finally happened — the Philippines opened up its borders to fully vaccinated international tourists from visa-free countries without quarantine. Within the first month of reopening, the Philippines welcomed 47,715 international travelers. This figure consists of 55% foreign tourists and 45% balikbayans or returning Filipinos. This successful reopening is a win for many different sectors that badly needed a boost after the COVID-19 pandemic made a dent in their revenues. Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat has stated that at least 1.1 million workers were displaced and affected by the pandemic in the tourism industry alone.
Of course, opening borders is also a win for both foreign tourists and returning Filipinos. Many Filipinos stuck overseas when the whole world went on lockdown finally have the chance to go home to their loved ones. Frequent travelers forced into cabin fever by the pandemic are going on a “revenge travel” frenzy. But a visit to the Philippines is not as simple as it used to be. Two years of lockdown meant two years of changes, and the Philippines now is not the same Philippines that some people may have known before.
So what has changed? What remained the same? Here are just some of the things you need to keep in mind before traveling to the Philippines in 2022:
- COVID is still very much a thing. With more than 45,000 active COVID-19 cases as of March 17, the pandemic is still far from over in the Philippines. Metro Manila and other metropolitan areas are opening up and the local workforce is starting to return to physical offices; but the persistence of COVID and the possibility of new variants mean that the status of international travel is still very much up in the air. A new coronavirus variant could emerge and spread anytime, and travel would again be restricted. All things considered, the best time to travel to the Philippines is probably now. Prospective visitors should take advantage of the fact that restrictions have eased significantly since the start of the year, and airlines are offering low flight prices to celebrate. For one, Philippine Airlines is offering up to 5 million seats at lower prices as part of their 81st anniversary sale until March 28.
- Travel requirements may vary from one place to another. During the peak of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, some local governments required RT-PCR tests and prior registration to their respective tourism platforms to control the flow of travelers in the area. While most local governments have done away with the RT-PCR requirement, many destinations still require other documents such as vaccine certificates, health declarations, and accommodation bookings prior to the date of arrival. The Guide to the Philippines website provides all the necessary information for travelers coming to the Philippines, including a list of destinations that do not require an RT-PCR test.
- The prolonged lockdown has changed the status quo in a lot of areas, especially transport. If you haven’t visited the Philippines since the pandemic, the “new normal” may take some getting used to. In Metro Manila, for example, most traditional jeepneys have been phased out and replaced with modern jeepneys with new or slightly altered routes. The government has also added more dedicated bike lanes to public roads in the past two years, although the state of public transportation and active mobility still leaves much to be desired. As public transportation became limited during lockdown, Filipinos became dependent on the services of mobile applications such as Grab, which has become indispensable not just for transportation but also for other essential activities such as courier services and digital payment.
If you are overwhelmed by the prospect of visiting the Philippines amid a prolonged pandemic, you can take comfort in the fact that everybody else is probably as confused as you are. The good news is that over the past two years, the Philippine government, local businesses, and Filipino residents alike have developed the skill of making necessary adjustments whenever the situation calls for it. This way, you can rest assured that no matter what happens during your stay in the Philippines, its people will always have your back.
After all, COVID or no COVID, it’s still more fun in the Philippines!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jess Pacis is a regular columnist for Know Your Philippines in our Lifestyle section. She is a writer and development worker based in the Philippines.