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TravelSmart: Safe, sustainable tourism in new normal, part 1

Last 16 July 2020, Smart Communications, Inc. organized a webforum, ‘#TravelSmart: Safe and Sustainable Tourism in the New Normal.’ Department of Tourism Secretary, Bernadette Romulo-Puyat was the keynote speaker. Its aim was to provide a background on the current challenges faced by the tourism industry, share best practices, and present digital tools that local tourism offices can tap as we transition to the ‘new normal.’ Part 1 focuses on DOT’s approach to this pandemic.

Part 1 | Part 2

As the Covid-19 pandemic has been disrupting every facet of our lives, we need to adapt and adopt to new ways, especially when it comes to travel. Gone are the days of traveling on a whim, dining out anytime or just going window shopping. Now, we have to grapple with limited mobility as we stay more at home. Putting off our travel plans as destination resort to localized lockdowns or shutting borders to wait out a quarantine order. We have to wear facemasks, wash our hands diligently and maintain social distancing wherever and whenever we go out. As the country and economy is gradually opening up, the more that we need to be cautious.

Tourism in the Philippines in 2019

DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat showed us the 2019 tourism numbers:

  • Philippine tourism was at its peak in 2019
  • 12.7% of GDP at 2.48 trillion pesos
  • Second biggest export item at 9.9% of total exports
  • Inbound tourism expenditure at 23.2% while domestic tourism expenditure at 10.4%
  • 13.5% of total employment at 5.71 million

The current pandemic has badly affected the momentum in the tourism industry. Travel and tourism have suffered the biggest losses in the country affecting directly and indirectly millions of people. There was a loss of travel demand, massive unemployment and severe loss of revenues.

The Philippine Travel Survey

The DOT, in collaboration with the Asian Institute of Management – Dr Andrew Tan Center for Tourism and Guide to the Philippines, conducted the Philippine Travel Survey This is to have a data driven approach to understand consumer behavior in these times. This is to come up with support and initiatives to revive the tourism industry. The survey had 12,732 respondents across 81 provinces. Key findings are below:

  • 77% of respondents said that they will travel even without the presence of a vaccine
  • 48% of the above will travel in the next six months once travel restrictions are lifted
  • 96% wants certified disinfecting protocols and regular sanitation of establishments, reduced contact activities opting the use of online and digital channels for convenience
  • 86% expect tourism enterprises to implement self-service check-in, online booking, digital payments and the like

Health and safety remain to be the major concerns of the respondents, and rightly so. To ensure these concerns are addressed, strict implementation of protocols is needed. This will also mean the acceleration of digital systems adoption and the need for tourism related enterprises to adapt to new ways of doing things.

The DOT approach

A series of health and safety guidelines have been issued by DOT. These governs the operations of accommodation establishments, restaurants, tourist transport services and island beach destinations. Another set will be implemented for MICE facilities, travel and tour operations, tour guides and tourist attractions. These in consultation with the private sector which is consistent with current world tourism best practices. The DOT is serious with compliance with the guidelines with businesses needing accreditation or a certificate of authority to operate.

Online courses and social media

Since April this year, the DOT has been conducting a series of webinars. This is to equip industry participants with skills and knowledge to help them adapt and thrive. These include ecommerce, culture and heritage, digitalization, entrepreneurship, hygiene and sanitation. There’s also a module on the Philippine brand of service excellence.

The DOT is also maximizing social media approach as well as site specific improvements. Launched online are virtual tours of museums and spaces in Intramuros. Posted too are immersive 360 degree underwater videos of Philippine dive spots. To have the Philippines top of mind when travel resumes, the Wake Up Philippines campaign have been launched. This features a wide spectrum of attractions across the country. Safepass Express and Eatin Express, two digital apps were also developed and provided free of charge to accredited tourism estabishments.

Farm tourism

The tourism department is also banking big on farm tourism. The Philippines being one of the world’s top destination for agri-tourism. To help this sector, the Philippine Harvest Bazaar, a trade fair has been established in partnership with Grab Philippines. Marketing and distribution will be handled by the latter.

Focus on domestic tourism

Domestic tourism has always been the driver of tourism recovery in times of crisis, according to Sec. Romulo-Puyat. This will be the main focus for now and build on that to regain the confidence of the international market. The main thrust is to open up tourism in phases and working with local government units. This is one way of determining readiness of stakeholders and host communities in opening to tourists.

Areas with zero or very low infection rate will be open to locals. Take for example Panglao, a major beach destination in Bohol which is now open for Boholanos. On the other hand, Boracay just opeed for local tourists in Western Visayas. Gradually, destination will start opening to broader markets when they have proven capable of safely managing an influx of travelers.

The DOT is also looking at ‘travel bubbles’ as one way of opening up. These are agreements on travel corridors with no risk countries in the region. Tourists can directly fly into these identified destinations without having to transit into a major hub or busy port.

Part 1 | Part 2

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