DOMESTIC tourism will resume ahead of international travel regardless of vaccine availability, said Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Department of Tourism (DOT) secretary, stressing that domestic tourism is an essential activity in the Philippine economy.
“We aim to target domestic tourists to start venturing and enjoying once again the beautiful sites and attractions around the country and contribute to economic recovery,” Puyat said in an interview with Malaya Business Insight.
“People can expect domestic tourism to resume first but it will be subject to the protocols and measures of the new normal.”
Puyat said the slow but safe return of domestic tourism will start the path of recovery for tourism stakeholders and also serve as the catalyst towards full recovery with new norms.
“Local travel will help build confidence among markets and will help hasten our adjustment to a new normal,” she said.
Promoting domestic tourism is a crucial step to bringing back the industry to full speed and contribute to the gross domestic product, she added.
The DOT regional offices’ domestic tourism programs are being modified together with local government units (LGUs) and private sector stakeholders to fit in the expected standards under a new normal.
Puyat said the role of the LGUs is crucial to the effective rollout of new standards, such as in the areas of social distancing and sanitation, for tourist sites and attractions.
From the DOT’s own research and those shared by global tourism bodies, “we are seeing a trend in favoring countries that have proper safety and sanitation protocols in place,” she said.
Transparency also plays a big part in tourist preference. “Honesty in showing the current state and measures we are taking builds trust and credibility with our potential tourists,” Puyat said.
Now, more than ever, Puyat believes sustainable tourism will become part of the new mainstream.
“We foresee that markets will become more discriminating in choosing destinations and will carefully look at various standards in place pertaining to safety and country green policies,” she said.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, she said sustainable tourism has been a growing trend among travelers. Puyat has seen this when Boracay was closed down and rehabilitated for six months, and followed this thru with “Save our Spots” campaign to inspire tourists and stakeholders to respect tourist destinations by keeping these clean and contributing to the local community.
Tourism establishments in other parts of the country such as Palawan, Bohol and Siargao have also started demolishing structures that do not follow the easement. They have likewise invested in sewage treatment facilities to prevent wastes from being dispersed to the waters.
“We have already reaped the rewards for shifting to sustainable tourism while other countries are still in discussion of where to start,” Puyat said.
In 2019, the DOT recorded an increase in arrivals from Japan, Germany and other European countries whose travelers are more inclined to visit places that practice sustainable tourism.
The DOT’s tourism regulation process carries green standards and it has successfully used these during the Boracay closure.
“We will continue to expand its scope and ensure that what we are learning and have already learned about this pandemic will be incorporated in our revised standards and rolled out immediately,” Puyat said.
As for the future of virtual travel, she said this is already part of the new normal of a traveler’s journey. It will become a step in the decision-making process and a crucial one in pursuing and consuming actual travel to destinations. Destinations will have to compete for market attention from the moment a would-be traveler visits a destination virtually.
“But I wouldn’t so far as say that it is the future of tourism,” Puyat said. Online 3D tours are excellent in enticing potential tourists to visit one’s country but apart from using it as a form of advertising, “it can never replace the actual experience of travelling, of being somewhere you’ve never been to before.”
“Virtual tours can provide a controlled sight and sound experience, but real traveling is about immersing one’s senses in a new place and a new culture – the view from a mountain, the indigenous music, the smell of sea breeze, the taste of unique flavors, the feeling of fine sand between one’s toes, not to mention the emotional connections we make when meeting new people from different places,” she added.