By Angela Castor
Vacation 2020 is not as we thought it would be. Instead of spending time on the beach, enjoying food on Asian street markets or taking a lot of IG-worthy photos of your Eurotrip, we were placed in a very long staycation─ Not a very relaxing one for that matter, as we’re all getting worried about our health, safety, and livelihood among other things. Suffice to say, everyone is affected by the pandemic but no more is badly hit than the tourism and hospitality industry and its allied services which were the first to feel its effects even before the lockdown was imposed. This includes airlines, resorts, hotels, travel and tours, restaurants, shops, performers, entertainers, and many more.
In the Numbers
If we are to look at the Tourism Direct Gross Value Added (TDGVA) to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), nearly thirteen percent was contributed by the tourism industry to the Philippine economy in 2018, according to the PSA. In terms of visitor arrivals, the country was in fact gaining momentum in the last five years and peaked at 8.26 million foreign visitors in 2019. It was even off to a good start for the industry in January 2020 but in a span of months, the deadly pandemic swept estimated 30,000-50,000 jobs in the tourism sector, with almost a million-dollar revenue loss in the first three months of the year and P93-187 billion estimated opportunity cost for the industry (NEDA).
One hotel in Boracay that has about 100 rooms to cater to tourists saw only five-room bookings a month before the lockdown in March. That’s not even enough to break-even in their daily operating expenses. Understandably, the top visitors of Boracay are Chinese tourists accounting to fifty-percent of foreign visitors. So when the President restricted the inbound travel of foreigners from China to contain the spread of the virus, the whole island braced for impact yet again. The island that was so dense in tourist population has become a deserted paradise quite drastically for the second time─ the first was when the President also mandated a 6-month closure to rehabilitate Boracay in 2018. Unlike the first closure, this might be worse as stakeholders are uncertain when to reopen again.
The biggest hotels and resorts were not spared. Even with the advance bonuses and incentives, Hennan Group of Resorts ceased operations and implemented forced LOA on its staff. Just recently, Okada Manila announced that they will be laying off a thousand workers because of severe losses due to the pandemic.
Fresh Eyes for Tourism
With the preparation and adaptation of several industries to the new normal, it is clear that the tourism sector should look at the way they are doing things with fresh eyes. If we are still thinking of traditional tourism practices after the quarantine period, both the public and private sectors need to collaborate, rethink their strategies and re-examine their tourism development plans. The main challenge for tourism officers now is how to attract tourists in their provinces amidst the threat in health and safety. Believe it or not, millennials may play a vital role in providing innovative, out-of-box ideas for each region to come up with tourism strategies. Festivals in the Philippines are big tourist magnets but as mass gatherings are discouraged and health safety is of paramount, it isn’t enough to rely on these kinds of activities to pull tourists in.
Several organizations and countries are taking the initiative to conduct virtual tour experiences serving as alternative tourism activities. Museums are following this initiative too. While some may argue that this can never replace the real experience of visiting the place, it may give tourists a taste of their culture, history, and beauty that will be later converted into action or purchasing decisions.
For the Philippines’ Department of Tourism, domestic travel is considered an important move to jumpstart tourism once the quarantine is eased, as international travel may be bleak this year. This is also the move of Japan, as they will subsidize half of the travel expenses for their domestic tourists to revive their tourism industry.
After all, who could better promote our own heritage and culture but our own people as well. In the words of Tourism Secretary Puyat during this National Heritage Month, “When we keep the stories alive, we understand where we come from. When we know who we are, we strengthen our national identity and deepen our sense of pride. And when we have a solid national identity that we are proud of, we can face all kinds of challenges the future will bring.”
Angela Castor is the Sales Manager of FutureSmart Resources + Strategies Inc., an Asian company committed to bridge gaps through technological innovation and data-driven strategies. She is also a former market researcher and brand marketer in one of the biggest research firms in the country and financial service industry, respectively.