What you need to know
The Philippine government, resort chains, and travel influencers are each trying to keep the country's tourism industry afloat while planning its post-pandemic recovery.
MANILA, Philippines - Crystal-clear waters, breathtaking white-sand beaches, gorgeous mountains — these just scratch the surface of the most splendid tourist spots the Philippines offers. The country’s rich culture has been the main reason foreign and local travelers visit the tourist destinations yearlong, especially in the summer.
But the Philippines has suffered a major upheaval in tourism revenues as the Covid-19 pandemic menaces the world.
Because of the virus, many countries, including the Philippines, have taken precautionary measures. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has announced an enhanced community quarantine and travel restrictions nationwide, set to last at least until April 30.
In Visayas, the popular tourist destination Boracay Island has banned both domestic and foreign visits after President Duterte’s March order on enhanced community quarantine. The Hennan Group of Resorts, among the biggest hotels and resorts in Boracay, is also affected by the lockdown. Since tourists are banned from entering the island as a safety precaution, the resort ceased its operations and implemented forced leaves of absence on its staff.
Boracay Hennan Group of Resorts Human Resource Director Lendie Catubig said the company paid out in advance its prorated annual bonus, performance-based incentives, and service charges for its employees.
“Those who are incapable of flying back home, we also offered them our staff house so they have a place to stay for the time being,” Catubig told The News Lens.
Catubig said that the resort will have displaced workers return to work gradually as soon as the pandemic ends.
“Most importantly, we will strengthen our campaign for local tourists since we forecast a huge down-slope in foreign visits until everything gets back to normal,” he said.
The Hennan Group of Resorts also offered booking extensions for guests who have booked their stay before the lockdown.
Uncertain of how to recover after the pandemic, many tourism business owners are now clutching to the government’s recovery plans.
As the Philippines grapples with Covid-19, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has projected a loss of revenue of about US$849 million between February and April 2020. The figures were based on the Department’s data over the past three years, according to Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.
Puyat also said that the DOT will promote multi-destination and summer packages as soon as the outbreak calms down to recuperate the lost revenues. The department has been working closely with major airlines in an attempt to introduce more discounted accommodation rates, marked-down prices for domestic flights, and value-added tour packages, Puyat added.
On the plus side, there are still hotels in the country that can benefit from the Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020 - (Bayanihan, a Tagalog term for communal work). Granting powers to President Duterte in March 2020 to combat Covid-19, the RA 11469 will allow him to reallocate a budget of US$5.37 billion for the year 2020.
Included in the Bayanihan Act is the accommodation of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) that are flying back home amid the pandemic.
Around 11,549 hotel rooms have been reserved to accommodate the returnees as soon as they arrive in the country for a mandatory 14-day quarantine. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, OFW recruitment agencies, and other national government agencies may shoulder the cost of their two-week stay in the hotels. Hotels in more remote areas have also accommodated the OFWs as they continue to arrive in the country.
The DOT, with a budget of US$278 million for tourism recovery projects approved before the coronavirus pandemic, is currently hard at work in response to Covid-19’s heavy toll on the economy.
Secretary Puyat said in a news statement billing that some of the funding is for the “ongoing projects, while others are in various stages of pre-procurement and procurement.” Puyat cited the infrastructure and rehabilitation projects in Bohol, Pampanga, Iloilo, Corregidor Island, Pangasinan, Baguio City, Palawan, Puerto Galera, and other tourist spots.
“This crisis will pass but our sector is badly hurt. We must find ways to shorten the tourism industry’s recovery path while generating jobs in the meantime,” Puyat noted. These ongoing and incoming projects are expected to provide thousands of jobs for Filipinos this year.
The regional tourism development plans also receive US$19.9 million in funding to “identify the tourism infrastructure needed to ensure sustainable development as well as promote the disaster resilience of tourist areas.”
The DOT is not alone in this challenge. Travel vloggers who are promoting Philippine tourism are also at the front line. They have taken as their mission promoting tourist destinations in the Philippines while staying home.
Filipino-Australian influencer Zowie Palliaer is still promoting the country’s tourism even on lockdown alongside other travel vloggers. Palliaer said that travel influencers have continued to inspire their social media followers to support local businesses.
“Right now, health and safety are paramount and we've been very vocal about adhering to government and WHO regulations and recommendations. We'd love to be able to go out and travel to remote areas that might not have any cases, but we have to be very diligent about the message we're promoting to our followers. So we have been self-isolating just like everyone else,” Palliaer told The News Lens.
Social media personalities are encouraging their followers to support tourism by re-booking instead of canceling their trips, according to Palliaer.
“By re-booking, we give hope to the tourism industry that they will have customers in the future when all this is in the past. And by supporting local [business], we help keep small companies afloat… like dining outlets that now only do delivery,” she said.
The coronavirus pandemic has interrupted their travel plans as well. Palliaer had just started a road trip before the lockdown was announced.
“But we know that our health and safety and that of others is more important than any waterfall or beach we planned to visit,” she said. “For now, we're bunkering down and waiting for this all to be over, so we can keep showing our beautiful country to everyone.”
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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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