After being closed due to the pandemic, the town of Donsol in Sorsogon, known for its whale sharks or tintin, is reopening its borders to tourism. Sorsogon Provincial Tourism director Bobby Gigantone stressed that the team made sure to follow all necessary guidelines and protocols before deciding to reopen the famous whale shark interaction. The idea is to keep tourists and locals safe.
Under Alert Level 2, indoor facilities are allowed to be at 50% capacity, while outdoor areas may be at 70% capacity. The Donsol Tourism Authority (DTO) reported that the pre-pandemic Boutentin Festival in 2019 grossed 448 million Philippine pesos. Of this amount, P75 million went to communities, P3.5 million to Local Government Unit (LGU) coffers and the rest to national promotion and tourism marketing activities.
The town’s whale shark Interactive program is a joint initiative of the LGU, the Department of Tourism (DOT) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines. The partnership aims to promote sustainable and balanced ecotourism projects.
DOT regional Director Herbie Aguas said the outbreak had severely affected tourism in the region over the past two years, resulting in a loss of P10 billion in revenue. Mr Agus also said it would take two to three years for the industry to recover and the government should provide fiscal stimulus to help implement the recovery plan. He advised industry stakeholders to look for other sources of income, such as working in agri-tourism.
Starting March 1, the Donsol Tourism Board announced that it has adjusted the prices of whale shark interactions. The increase is due to losses caused by the pandemic and is designed to help community guides, crews and operators who have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic. The DTO said it would implement the adjustment of rates for the rental of motor boats for Whale Shark Interaction from March 1, 2022 in accordance with Municipal Ordinance No. 182, Series 2019. Registration fees for guests will remain the same.
The DTO also mentioned that only vaccinated tourists can enter the area and must present their vaccination certificate at the town assessment centre. They must also complete a Travel Registration form and provide a valid ID card for verification.