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The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) will be having a meeting with dive boat operators and officials on Feb. 21 to tackle the needed precautionary measures in the advent of new Coronavirus threat.
This was disclosed by Park Superintendent Angelique Songco when asked on what preparations they are now doing amidst the 2019-nCoV threat, given the fact that most of the visitors of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park are foreigners, and majority are mainlanders from China.
“Eighteen (18) percent ng bisita natin, [mga] Chinese, ‘yan ang pinakamalaking demographic sa mga bisita natin. So, hindi natin alam actually, kung pagdating ng summer kung ilan ang matutuloy at kung ilan ang hindi,” Songco said during the exclusive interview with Palawan Daily News (PDN) recently.
In connection with this, she said that they will also invite some personnel of City Health Office or the Provincial Government of Palawan.
“[We’re] going to call [the concerned agencies at tatanungin natin kung] anong nangyari sa meeting sa [binuong Joint Multi-agency] Task Force. Kung anuman ang ang advice nila, isasama natin sa programa with dive operators,” she added.
Their final decision, she said, will depend on the status of the issue on Feb. 21.
As of press time, she clarified, that they cannot tell yet on how the infections will affect the tourism arrival this coming summer.
“Ang mga nagbabiyahe sa Tubbataha [Reefs Natural Park], malayo pa lang nagbo-book na many months ahead. Some of them, nagbo-book one year in advance….‘Yung virus naman, parang kailan lang….So, ‘yun na nga ang iniisip namin, how would it affect the actual visitation,” she added.
Based on their data, the earliest arrival of tourists will be on Feb. 29 while the next arrival will be on March 11. Then in April, “everyone will almost here,” of which the largest group is composed of 31 individuals.
“Ang daming nag-book [ngayon], but because of this—kasi alam mo, ang mga foreigners, kapag narinig nila [na may nagpositibo sa Pilipinas], di naman nila iisipin na sa Palawan wala naman [nagpositibo sa nCoV], iisipin lang nila sa Philippines, may namatay na; they might not even want to come. [Sa ngayon], wala pa [namang nagkakansela] pero in a few weeks [from now], we will find out,” Songco further explained.
For this year, their projection has increased by more than ten percent that is equivalent to 300-400 additional tourists compared to their 2019 data that corresponds to 3,500 persons.
“In-expect namin, siguro 12 percent increase [ngayong taon]. It’s a small increase pero, kunti lang naman talaga ‘yung tourist based [ng Tubbataha] di ba!? [Kaya] para sa amin, big deal ang increase na ‘yan. Pero ‘yun lang nga, di natin alam ilan ang darating [talaga].”
From US$2,600-US$3,000 fees in order for a tourist to have a once in a lifetime experience in the so-called Philippines’ Diving Mecca, the TMO gained a P18 million revenue last year, and they are targeting to raise it to P19 million this year. And from the total revenue coming from different sources, 75-79 percent of it goes directly for TRNP’s protection, for instance, Tubbataha Park Ranger Station expenses, park rangers’salary, fuels for mobilization and monitoring, other enforcement expenses, and for administration purposes.
And once in TRNP, the visitors will get a chance to visit the Park Ranger Station in order to buy Tubbataha’s souvenir items and for photo opportunity, aside of course from the regular diving and other related activities.
When asked for a possible cancellation of tourism activities this year, TRNP Park head said that “It is possible” when needed.
“If necessary, we will close [Tubbataha temporarily]…. Ang isang tao, mas mahalaga kaysa sa P19 million [na makukua namin from revenues],” Songco stressed out.