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6 Things to Know About Travel Bubbles

What is a travel bubble?

“Travel bubble” is a new term coined during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 as a solution to revive the economy and keep the tourism sector afloat. 

Also called a travel corridor, corona corridor, or travel bridge, and is considered the new normal in tourism.  

It refers to 2 countries opening their borders to each other. But its definition broadens, as more places try to reopen.  Now, travel bubbles can also refer to a few places within the same country opening its borders to a limited population so long as certain conditions are met.

While it doesn’t guarantee safety, it limits the risk for travelers and locals by setting certain standards set by both destinations. 

What do governments consider when forging travel bubble agreements with each other?

Countries near each other are more inclined to forge travel bubble agreements due to proximity.  Having similar strategies in dealing with the virus can also be a factor.  Another consideration is the number of coronavirus cases.  Places with a low number of covid-19 cases will open only to a partner with few or no cases.   Having direct flights is also a consideration.

What places have travel bubble agreements?

Travel bubble agreements between countries have been implemented and suspended and some are in the middle of negotiations. Some countries that have, or are negotiating travel bubble agreements with each other are New Zealand and Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore and Japan and South Korea. India and the Philippines are also looking to forge agreements with a few countries. And some countries in Europe have tried and suspended it due to rising cases.

Are there places in the Philippines that are open to travel bubbles?

In the Philippines, the Tourism department studied opening a few tourist destinations by the last quarter of 2020.  Some of these are Boracay, Bohol, Manila, Baguio and Palawan.  

How can one be part of a travel bubble?

Requirements differ from place to place but general guidelines include:

  • A negative RT-PCR test 72 hours before travel
  • Absence of co-morbidities or health risks such as diabetes, hypertension, heart or lung conditions 
  • Filling up of health declaration form
  • Filling up a contact tracing form or downloading a contact tracing app.  

For establishments such as resorts and hotels, they need to:

  • Secure certificates to operate from appropriate government agencies.  Here in the Philippines,  the Department of Tourism (DOT) issues Certificate of Authority To Operate (CATO) and some Local Government Units (LGUs) issue separate permits.  
  • Apply reduced capacity, usually 50% or if more, schedule activities and implement crowd control.
  • Limit dine-in crowd to 50% capacity or as determined by authorities.  Some only allow take-outs or room service.
  • Review the use of swimming pools.  Depending on the setup, some might deem it best closed or for booking per party.

What can travelers expect?

  • Temperature checks as one enters any establishment from the airport to the hotel.
  • Covid-19 health check forms to be filled out 
  • Use of technology for:
    • Contact tracing 
    • Generating QR codes for several uses such as 
      • Forms generation
      • Restaurant menus
    • Online payment
  • Not all tourist sites are open.  For those that are, there might be a limit to the number of people allowed.
  • Face masks and face shields might be required 
  • Social distancing of two meters or two arms’ length should be maintained
  • Reduced staff in business establishments including restaurants, banks, etc.
  • Some restaurants might need advanced bookings to control the crowd
  • Some travel bubbles initiated by hotels or resorts form a “bubble” group that travels together If you’re part of a group

Sites of El Nido

BIG AND SMALL LAGOONS

The lagoons in El Nido are said to be caves millions of years ago. Their roofs collapsed, leaving majestic limestone walls. In the case of the small lagoon, the rugged cliffs created a magical sanctuary with supremely calm and clear turquoise water.

HIDDEN BEACH

El Nido’s Hidden beach is one of the “30 Best Beaches in the World” according to Conde Nast Traveler’s June 2020 list? In 2018, it was voted the most beautiful beach in Asia and 3rd in the world by Canada’s biggest flight agency, Flight Network.  “The wild, vegetation-covered rock formations and crystal-clear waters of Hidden Beach will make you feel as if you’ve been dropped into a movie” – Sachin Aggarwal, Carlson Wagonlit Travel

On the sandbar at Snake Island

SNAKE ISLAND

Also known to locals as Vigan Island, Snake Island was coined due to the winding shape of the unique sandbar that connects the island to the mainland. Appearing daily at low tide, it’s an amazing experience to stroll along the sandbar and feeling like you’re in a deserted paradise. On both sides of the white sand strip are shallow swimming areas. “The water in this area is nothing short of spectacular. Crystal clear and stunningly turquoise – it’s pretty easy to see why this place is considered by many Filipinos to be paradise.”- Elle Burne, travel blogger

DULI BEACH

November to March is surf season in El Nido. A consistent swell in Duli beach makes it an ideal surfing spot

HELICOPTER ISLAND / DILUMACAD ISLAND

One of the 45 islands in Bacuit bay in El Nido, one is shaped like a chopper, hence its nickname, Helicopter island. Originally named Dilumacad island is like many others in the area with its long, white sandy beaches. It a good spot for experienced divers. Not advisable for children due to sudden drop in sea floor. There’s an underwater cave on the northern end.

CUDUGNON CAVE

A stunning display of beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, the Cudugnon Cave is an archeological site where bones and artifacts were discovered.  It’s a must-see site that takes you back into ancient times when majestic rock formations, elevated cavernous ceilings and limestone cliffs dominated the landscape.

TARAW CLIFF

A hike to this highest peak in El Nido will reward you with a breathtaking panoramic view of Bacuit bay. The climb to Taraw cliff might be challenging due to the sharp rocks and tricky footing, but with an experienced guide and some caution, one should definitely consider scaling it. The incredible view makes it well worth it!

CATHEDRAL CAVE

Cathedral cave is on Pinasil Island, and is one of the many natural wonders of Bacuit bay.

There is an open chamber at the center of the Island where you can see that it has a shape of a cathedral surrounded by high rocky cliffs.

MATINLOC SHRINE

An alternative to Taraw cliff, Matinloc shrine also offers an amazing view of Bacuit bay, with its share of rock formations and scenic view, but with an easier hike. It’s an abandoned shrine with a port and a small gorgeous beach. 

Entrance fee is P100.

SEVEN COMMANDOS BEACH

A popular beach in El Nido, it has almost everything El Nido is famous for.  Situated under limestone cliffs, coconut trees line the stretch of the white sand beach where one can snorkel and swim

What is your favorite site in El Nido?

*This list is being continuously updated.

Tips for Traveling in Groups

Filipinos like to travel in groups.  Whether with family, or a group of friends, we love to share special moments and discover new things with our tribe. 

When we look through our travel photos, we don’t remember the planning that went into it.  But every wonderful travel moment was born out of good planning.

Here are a few tips to make your travel planning smarter:

DO:

Assign person/s in charge

Having a point person on areas of your trip ensures that you’ve got that aspect covered. Agree to have that person know details that matter: dates, times, requirements, documents, options, etc. Someone could be in charge of accommodations and another for transportation.  Don’t forget to have someone research activities in the area.  It might be best to do advanced booking.

Create a chat group

It may be moot to mention this nowadays but here goes. Use apps like Viber, Whatsapp, or Facebook Messenger to post updates or poll for decisions. Make a new chat specifically for the trip. That way, it’ll easier to find things you talked about!

Agree on a budget

Have a budget agreed on early, to avoid surprises during the trip. The last thing you want is not to have money to buy that must-have souvenir or to pay fare for that last leg home. Some might be willing to spend on things that others are not.  You might want to divide things equally or per family or per item (eg food will be shouldered by one, the other will answer for activities etc). It is best to have this figured out before the actual trip.

Photo by oxana v on Unsplash

Book early

Popular places run out of space fast during peak season.  If you’re a big group needing a sizable space, it would be good to lock it in early.  Always check for group rates. 

Use the perks of big group travel

Consider houses, apartments or villas instead of hotel rooms when choosing accommodations.  Some of the most stunning accommodations like castles or heritage houses are cost effective for a group.

Same goes for transportation.  A taxi might be too expensive if you’re alone or just for two travelers.  But for four, it might come out cheaper than a train or bus ride.  Consider also renting a van or coaster for bigger groups. 

DON’T

Don’t hesitate to ask

If the things you want are not mentioned explicitly in the website of the provider, drop them an email. You’ll be surprised at the possibilities when you ask.  Among them: room or vehicle upgrades, free extra beds, discounts, children’s rates, early or late check in.  Some establishments may be experiencing a slump or have extra inventory, or may have woken up extra generous! You never know what they can throw in a package.  Specially for big groups

Don’t over-schedule  

Plan the days as loosely as possible. Also put in free time to roam around. Best discoveries often happen this way.

Don’t feel bad about splitting up 

No one wants to be forced to do things while on vacation. You don’t have to be together all the time. It’s enough to come together for at least one meal a day.

Do you have any tips you can share?