Pivoting to the new normal

    Puyat stressed that domestic tourism is central to DOT’s recovery strategy. In the last nine months, the department focused on reviving domestic tourism in a safe and sustainable way.

    Collective efforts of the public and private sectors in the destination and visitor anagement have impacted favorably in what is considered as one of the country’s sunshine industries.

    The Department of Tourism (DOT) and its attached agencies have met to re-plan strategies and rationalize goals. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, DOT secretary, set the following directions: to harmonize initiatives to respond to the present challenges, sustain pivot to the new normal and effectively steer the recovery of tourism.

    This after the DOT reported the country received only 1.3 million foreign visitors in 2020, an 83.97 percent drop from the 8.26 million arrivals the previous year.

    Total receipts generated from inbound tourism in 2020 only stood at P81.4 billion, a decrease of 83.12 percent from P482.16 billion recorded in 2019.

    Investors and stakeholders said it could have been worse. Puyat said underscored what the DOT has done so far.

    In March, when the various lockdown measures were enforced to combat the pandemic, the DOT organized 1,219 repatriation missions, including sweeper flights, with the regional offices, Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) and various embassies and local government units (LGUs).

    Puyat said a total of 32,360 foreign and 11,408 local tourists were assisted. The DOT also activated the 24/7 Online Response Team and its emergency hotline, 1-386, to support the teams on the ground.

    In June, the DOT completed the Tourism Response and Recovery Program with inputs from regional consultations with stakeholders, which now serves as the industry’s blueprint for recovery.

    She stressed that domestic tourism is central to DOT’s recovery strategy. In the last nine months, it focused on reviving domestic tourism in a safe and sustainable way.

    The DOT’s domestic tourism recovery efforts started with initiatives to assist both its enterprises and tourism workers, Puyat said.

    She added that the hotel sector was repurposed and allowed to operate as facilities to house essential workers and those who were stranded. With intensified government repatriation of Filipinos abroad, the hotels were likewise enjoined to open as quarantine facilities.

    As of January 10, 2021, 765 hotels nationwide are listed as quarantine facilities with a total of 72,547 rooms.

    Specific protocols for accommodations, restaurants, tourist land transport, travel and tour operations, tour guides, island and beach destinations, dive establishments, staycation hotels, spa, and meetings, incentives, convention and exhibition facilities, and tourist attractions were issued by the DOT. All of which, Puyat said, are benchmarked against global standards and established best practices.

    The DOT, which equipped and reskilled tourism workers with essential competencies to prepare them for new normal capacity requirements, conducted 729 online courses benefitting 50,604 participants here and abroad.

    To pave the way for the safe reopening of destinations, Puyat said the DOT deployed the online accreditation system to facilitate registration and other procedures as a prerequisite for tourism enterprises to operate.

    As of December 15, 2020, a total of 8,906 enterprises have been accredited.

    The DOT also strengthened its partnership with LGUs to pursue the slow but sure reopening of their destinations, Puyat said.

    The DOT Domestic Tourism Task Force was constituted to undertake product audits to reassess product offerings, realign promotions and determine the readiness of destinations to reopen safely. Its composite validation teams mounted missions to check if those areas have the health and safety measures in place.

    The DOT helped pilot the Ridge and Reef Travel Corridor of Baguio and Ilocos Region, and was heavily involved in the reopening of Boracay, Bohol and El Nido after readiness to receive tourists was ascertained.

    The DOT aired its recommendation to put a price cap when the high cost of coronavirus tests became an impediment to domestic travel.

    Later, the DOT, through the TPB, took the initiative to collaborate with the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) and the Philippine Children’s Medical Centre (PCMC) on the 50 percent subsidy for the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing cost.

    Puyat said the DOT’s partnership with UP-PGH and PCMC has driven down the cost of the RT-PCR for around 22,000 tourists, now coming out much cheaper than the Rapid Antigen Test cost.

    The Philippines continues to be promoted through the production of We Smile and Recover as One, Wake Up in the Philippines, Have a Safe Trip, Pinas and Balikan ang Pilipinas as well as the establishment of digital and online platforms including the Travel Philippines app and the philippines.travel/safeph website.

    Puyat said briefings for travel trade counterparts in the various markets were regularly conducted to sustain interest, plan for joint marketing initiatives, and prepare for the resumption of business once international borders are opened.

    DOT’s foreign offices and product/market teams continued participating in travel fairs and selling missions, both virtually and on ground.

    Last September, the DOT, through the TPB, had a successful run of the PHITEX 2020 hybrid event in Bohol. Joined by 122 foreign buyers from 24 countries and 345 Philippine sellers from 161 companies, the event was also able to generate a projected revenue of P42 million.

    Puyat said the DOT transitioned Philippine Harvest and Kain Na programs, which are banner programs for sustainable food, farm and travel, to hybrid set-ups.

    In December, the DOT concluded the 4th leg of Kain Na through the first on-ground Food Tourism Christmas Market. It also established the Kain Na store and Philippine Harvest online stores to provide online selling platforms to support food and farm tourism stakeholders during the pandemic.

    Despite the international travel restrictions, Puyat said the country was still a top-of-mind destination, garnering several recognitions.