2021: Renewed hope towards 'steady' tourism recovery

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

December 28, 2021, 2:47 pm

<p>El Nido, Palawan <em>(File photo)</em></p>

El Nido, Palawan (File photo)

MANILA – The annual tourism revenue in 2020 is no doubt higher than the receipts generated this year since tourists were still able to enter the country from January to mid-March last year before the lockdown was imposed.

But if you compare the figures from April to September of both years covering the pandemic period, the tourism industry this 2021 is seeing a renewed hope towards a steady recovery path.

Data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed that tourism receipts from April to September 2021 reached PHP3.1 billion, up by 91.6 percent from PHP1.6 billion generated in the same period last year.

"The current tourism scenario is looking generally optimistic as we end 2021. As Alert Levels have gone down, local travel requirements were also eased. Many of our destinations now accept local tourists who are fully vaccinated, with no need to present a negative RT-PCR test," Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat told the Philippine News Agency.

Since the gradual resumption of tourism operations last September, more establishments have reopened and the country saw an uptick in the number of domestic travelers in major tourist destinations.

In Boracay alone, tourism arrivals ballooned by 1,151.61 percent to 173,104 from the 13,830 tourists recorded on the island during the same period in 2021.

The DOT also continued to promote the Philippines as a country that banks not only on the safety of travelers but also its host communities as it actively vaccinates tourism workers nationwide.

As of December 24, at least 88.38 percent or 282,780 tourism workers have been inoculated against coronavirus disease, while the remaining 11.62 percent are waiting for their schedule.

Philippine Tour Operators Association, Inc. (PHILTOA) president Fe Abling-Yu, meanwhile, hopes that the eased restrictions would continue throughout 2022.

"Ang nangyayari kasi close, open, close, open tayo. Then pumasok na 'yong August, nagsarado nanaman so wala nanaman din, so 'yong recovery parang urong-sulong (What happened is we close then we open then close again. Back in August, we close so it seemed like recovery is unsteady)," she said, citing the closures when the Delta variant struck the country.

"Since nasa Alert Level 2 na tayo sana lang magtuloy-tuloy na. Nandoon kami sa hope na magtutuloy-tuloy na the challenge is mayroon na naman tayong variant pero sana 'yong pagbo-booster at vaccination makatulong (Since we're already on Alert Level 2, I hope this continues. We are hopeful this would but the challenge now is the new variant so hopefully the boosters and vaccination would help)," she added.

'2022 optimism'

For 2022, Romulo-Puyat sees "revenge travel" manifesting across all markets of the Philippine tourism industry. And in the wake of disconnect and economic hardship brought about by the pandemic, Filipinos are likely to travel "more consciously".

A recent research commissioned by AirBnB showed that over 80 percent of Filipinos it polled seek to travel in a way that positively impacts locals while about 76 percent want to be more conscious when it comes to familiarizing themselves with the host community and how they can make a contribution.

The DOT has vowed to pivot towards sustainable tourism development models, with focus on providing guests with high-quality experiences rather than mass tourism and short-term gains.

With no certain date yet as to when the country will open its borders for foreign leisure travelers, the DOT believes domestic tourists will continue to be the main tourism growth driver next year.

Apart from them, the DOT said it will tap into the growing workation market, seeing that remote work is likely to stay throughout and even after the pandemic.

"The trend was something that came along as a need by employees who worked from home during the pandemic, yet also needed the time to take a break and recover from cabin fever. We are confident that with the increasing prominence of remote work, this trend will linger on even after the pandemic," Romulo-Puyat said.

But if the Philippines reopens, she said foreign tourists can rest assured that health and safety protocols would be in place.

"The DOT yields to the wisdom of our health experts and we fully understand the need to protect the health and well being of the rest of the country, especially now that we have started to see the light at the end of the tunnel," she said.

The Philippines was supposed to end its almost 21-month closure to foreign tourists last December 1, but the plan was suspended amid the growing threat of the heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus variant, of which four confirmed cases were already reported in the country.

The Tourism chief is also hoping to successfully host the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit in March 2022, a MICE event seen to boost the Philippine travel sector's recovery.

"The DOT has been rigorously preparing for the WTTC Global Summit since the middle of this year, and we are continuously strengthening our preparations to successfully host the event in March of 2022," she said.

"The WTTC Global Summit is widely considered as the most influential event for travel and tourism professionals and stakeholders, and we are making sure that the health and safety of our guests, as well as our staff, are on top of our priority list," she added.

'Odette devastation'

Meanwhile, the DOT is working on a "rehabilitation and recovery" plan following the devastation of Super Typhoon Odette, which has affected several tourist destinations, including Bohol, Camiguin, Cebu, Negros Oriental and Occidental, Palawan, Siargao, and Southern Leyte.

Romulo-Puyat said the plan will focus on addressing immediate concerns of affected tourism workers, such as cash-for-work or alternative livelihood programs and the reconstruction of affected facilities of various enterprises.

The agency, through the Tourism Promotions Board, is also facilitating the delivery of relief goods and basic necessities to Cebu, Siargao, Tacloban, Palawan, and Negros Oriental.

Cash donations from tourism stakeholders were also given to affected establishments and DOT Regional Offices. In addition, the DOT is in close coordination with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for financial assistance.

In Siargao, Romulo-Puyat said the DOT together with the Makati Med Foundation will continue with the vaccination program for tourism workers, and at the same time see to the immediate medical needs of the community.

"The Department hopes to provide an inventory of the damage as soon as power and communication lines have been restored. For the time being, the Department is exhausting all means to help the local government units provide the immediate needs of those affected by the typhoon," she said.

"We stand behind with our kababayans and our tourism stakeholders from Visayas and Mindanao in these difficult times," she added. (PNA)