Aside from crafting the national guidelines for tourism-related establishments and enterprises that will ensure the safety, health and well-being of tourists and residents of local communities in the new normal, the Department of Tourism has initiated specific recovery and resiliency plans for primed tourist destinations.
In mid-March, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic which halted all tourism activities in the country.
Roberto Alabado III, Department of Tourism (DOT) assistant secretary for tourism development planning, said the department’s immediate response was to ensure the safety and well-being of tourists stranded around the country when the community quarantine measures were announced.
More than 43,000 of these tourists have been assisted by the DOT, setting up an online response team to address travelers’ concerns round the clock since late March, he added.
Today, as quarantine measures in many parts of the country have been easing gradually, Alabado said the way for a slow but sure reopening of tourist destinations is now possible.
Alabado represented DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat in UP-CIFAL Philippines’ recent “The Future of Tourism in the Time of COVID-19” online discussion which gathered resource persons from the government, academe, non-government organization and the United Nations World Tourism Organization to talk about the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on the tourism sector, and possible recovery measures and sustainable strategies to help address these issues.
According to Alabado, much of DOT’s response to the situation has focused on building resiliency in tourism destinations.
The tourism industry can recover and even grow in the “new normal,” he said, adding the agency looks inward for the catalyst to the industry’s recovery.
“It is a blessing that the domestic travel industry has historically been quite strong. Over the last few years, it has performed even better than expected,” he said.
The National Tourism Development Plan for 2016 to 2022 gave a projection of 89.2 million domestic tourists by 2022.
“We have far exceeded that number, as Filipinos booked 110 million trips last year thanks to the robust local travel market,” Alabado said, noting domestic tourism expenditure rose 10.4 percent to P3.14 trillion in 2019, from P2.85 trillion in 2018.
Data show that domestic tourists are the real heroes of this industry, “and I know that we can count on them to revive local tourism now when we need it the most,” he added.
Per DOT’s survey on travel’s new normal, Alabado noted that 77 percent of respondents are willing to travel even in the absence of a vaccine; 48 percent of this number says they will travel within six months from the lifting of travel restrictions.
The survey, which had 12,732 respondents from all 81 provinces, also revealed that health and safety is now the primary concern of travelers, 96 percent of whom want to see certified disinfecting protocols and regular sanitation in establishments.
Alabado said that aside from crafting the national guidelines for tourism-related establishments and enterprises that will ensure the safety, health and well-being of tourists and residents of local communities in the new normal, “the DOT has initiated specific recovery and/or resiliency plans for primed tourist destinations.”
In Boracay, DOT has partnered with Filinvest Corporate City Foundation Inc. and Crimson Resort and Spa Boracay for the donation of a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) machine.
It also formed partnerships with Smart, PLDT-Smart Foundation, Makati Medical Center Foundation and Metro Pacific Investments Foundation for other health- or emergency-related programs.
DOT also facilitated the donation of an RT-PCR machine and RNA extraction machine in Davao. It has touched base with donors and coordinated with the local government units and the Department of Health for its location.
With testing facilities in Boracay and Davao, Alabado said consumer confidence is expected to rise in these destinations, hopefully translating into a quicker-than-expected recovery period.
Up north, the Tourism Promotions Board has committed P7.2 million for programs that will spur the recovery of the tourism industry in Baguio—the creation of the Baguio Visitors Management System, a multi-platform digital monitoring application; sponsorship of a photo contest for tourists; establishment of Baguio re-branding marketing and promotional projects; setting up the baguiocreativecity.com website and e-commerce platform; and reviving Baguio’s weaving and fashion industry.
Alabado said the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed DOT to strengthen focus of the Transforming Communities toward Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Destinations (TouRIST) program, seeking to establish appropriate mechanisms and implement requisite support projects, thus ensuring competitiveness and sustainability.
For the TouRIST programs in Palawan, to be funded by the Asian Development Bank, he said the municipality of El Nido will benefit from the Corong-Corong sewerage and septic management and drainage improvements, the restoration of three key tourism sites, and receive technical assistance for emergency health services.
Coron stands to benefit with the restoration of four tourism sites, drainage improvements, social enterprise support and livelihood development, and technical assistance for operationalizing emergency health service improvements in tourism destinations.
Bohol is also part of the TouRIST program with its projects being funded by the World Bank. In the first quarter of 2021, $62 million is scheduled for release to finance the development of a bulk water supply, solid waste management on the island, local economic development like the Assistance to Reinvigorate Tourism Value Chain, the Palengke Program, tourism sites enhancement and management, and enhancing hygiene preparedness in tourist sites.
Alabado also said Siargao will gain a wastewater treatment facility, upgrading of water supply facilities, hygiene preparedness of tourist sites and Heals 911 Center, while Siquijor will benefit from the installation of solar-powered streetlights and funding for the SAFER Siquijor smart hotline project.
Because of this shift in consumer behavior, DOT has encouraged tourism enterprises to adapt contactless operations and transactions. Aside from hosting webinars in this topic, the DOT partnered with startup incubator Talino Venture Labs for the development of SafePass and Eat-In Express, the digital solutions tailored for the needs of hotels and restaurants for prevention and management of COVID-19.
The DOT also created a task force on domestic tourism product and market development.
As the needs and wants of tourists are constantly evolving due to the pandemic, Alabado said the task force is conceptualizing and developing new and other tourism-related products and programs that will enhance tourism sites and facilities for the tourism market.
It is likewise mandated to formulate strategies for market development, provide tourists with seamless access to sites and attractions, enforce adherence to new normal standards, promote investments, and facilitate closer coordination with provincial and local governments.
“The decision to open a destination shall be a shared responsibility of the local government units, private stakeholders, and the community themselves, with the DOT acting as the facilitator,” Alabado said.
In this slow but sure approach advocated by the DOT, “we are looking at reopening tourism spots and places,” he added.
Most of the destinations now are only open to people traveling within their cities or provinces. If all goes well in the following months, travel between provinces within the same region will be allowed.
With the hope that active cases decline all over the country, inter-regional travel across the Philippines can take place.
Alabado also mentioned the “travel bubbles” where tourists from countries with low or zero COVID-19 cases will be allowed to visit select destinations in the country.
The DOT is also hopeful the final version of Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) will give the industry dedicated funding for additional programs that are responsive to the needs of its stakeholders. It is also working with the Tourism Congress of the Philippines to lobby its position to Congress and Senate leaders.