Is PHL tourism finally ready to restart?
DOMESTIC tourism is picking up once again, with residents of the National Capital Region (NCR) once again allowed to travel to leisure destinations in the country.
For example, on the island of Boracay, famous the world over for its beautiful white sand beach, visitor arrivals rebounded to 6,702 in September, from just 24 in August, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT). NCR, the main source of domestic visitors to many tourist destinations, entered another lockdown on August 6, as the Delta variant of Covid-19 wreaked havoc in the metropolis. But under the government’s new Covid alert level system, which went into effect on September 16, tourists between the ages of 18 and 65 are now allowed to travel, point-to-point, to any destination. recreation, subject to local government entry requirements.
Barring further travel restrictions, Philippine Tour Operators Association President Cesar Cruz expresses his optimism: “Before the end of the year… we [tourism] can already take off. He observes that domestic tourists have already “risen to the challenge” of paying for RT-PCR tests, which increases their travel costs, or of obtaining their QR codes from local government websites.
Vaccination is the key
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat believes vaccination will be key to helping put the travel industry back on track for recovery, as she continues to push for more tourism workers to receive their vaccines .
As of September 16, 2021, the NCR had the highest number of tourism workers vaccinated at 94%, followed by the Davao region at 88% and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) at 80%. DOT targets some 74,000 tourism workers in Boracay, Bohol, Palawan, Siargao and Pampanga for vaccination.
For specific leisure destinations, Romulo Puyat says 100 percent of Boracay tourism workers are expected to have already been vaccinated by the end of September. The pioneers of tourism in Baguio are already 100% vaccinated. “I hope that before Christmas, the country’s tourism workers will be 100% vaccinated,” she said.
The DOT is trying to model its strategy on the Phuket Sandbox model, where 70 percent of the island’s residents have already been vaccinated, before reopening to foreign tourists. “We are closely monitoring Phuket and its sandbox approach [to reopening to international tourism]Says the DOT chief.
As part of the sandbox program, vaccinated tourists were allowed into Phuket, but first had to ‘quarantine’ for 14 days before being allowed to travel to other destinations in Thailand. The quarantine has since been reduced to seven days, with the Thai government now allowing tourists from any country to visit. Bangkok Post reported only 95 cases of Covid directly linked to the sandbox program as of September 17. The island has registered some 30,000 foreign tourists since it reopened on July 1.
Veteran tour operator Jose C. Clemente III supports DOT’s efforts to reopen tourism, particularly with regard to vaccination of the front lines of tourism. But he emphasizes: “This must represent 70 percent of the [destination’s] residents, not just tourism workers, who must be fully immunized before being reopened to foreign tourists. “
Also president of the Philippine Tourism Congress, Clemente adds, “It is always necessary to be extremely careful because the virus is still with us. And medical experts believe that people who are fully vaccinated can still act like [Covid] carriers. “
Lift age restrictions,
DOT’s immediate priority is to lift age restrictions for residents of Metro Manila traveling for their leisure. “You know Filipinos love to travel with their family. So it’s a shame if you have to leave your lola or your baby behind, ”explains Romulo Puyat.
It is also firm on reducing or possibly lifting the quarantine period for vaccinated foreign tourists, hence the rush to vaccinate the country’s tourism workers. “As long as we accept full vaccines [guests], then we should reduce the quarantine days.
For now, only returning Filipinos, balikbayans, foreigners with valid and existing visas are allowed to enter the Philippines, unless they are from countries on a red list or from a prohibited country. Only Filipinos returning on government-approved repatriation flights are allowed entry if they come from a Red List country, but must be quarantined for 14 days at a government-approved facility.
Vaccinated people arriving from countries on the so-called green list undergo a quarantine of seven days, while people coming from countries on the yellow list, regardless of their vaccination status, undergo a quarantine period of 10 days.
The DOT leader’s good intentions aside, however, she still faces formidable opposition. “At every IATF meeting, I constantly fight for the lifting of more travel restrictions to help tourism players get back on their feet. But we still have to defer to the health experts, to the DOH [Department of Health]. “
In addition, not all leisure destinations are ready to receive visitors, even if the vaccination of their residents has already started. Currently, popular leisure destinations that accept visitors are Baler, Bacolod City, Bohol, Boracay, Cebu City, Dumaguete, Legazpi City, Palawan (Coron, El Nido, San Vicente), Clark Freeport in Pampanga, Puerto Galera, Subic Bay Freeport in Zambales, Zamboanga City, to name a few. (See the Philippines Guide for entry requirements.)
New products, uniform travel protocols
As part of its revised National Tourism Development Plan for 2021-2022, DOT has developed new strategies and directions to help the industry rebound.
“As we continue to maintain our commitments in our key, strategic and opportunity markets, the department is also preparing and recalibrating its tourism products, adapting them to new market preferences in the post-pandemic era, where tourism experiences more sustainable, greener and more immersive should be in high demand, ”says Romulo Puyat.
The DOT “will also” develop and / or improve the quality and experience of priority tourist circuits that match market preferences for safe travel in open / outdoor spaces, natural, organized, sensory and inclusive products “.
DOT also wants to accelerate safe and green travel infrastructure and facilitation initiatives, such as “[improving] Access and destination management infrastructure in the areas of sanitation, man-made landfills, health facilities and emergency response system, among others.
Among these green initiatives are “uniform and secure travel protocols to facilitate internal mobility and perform a rapid assessment of readiness for international initiatives”. These include the online visa application, the adoption of the International Air Transport Association Travel Pass and an “immunity / green / safe passport”.
The agency will develop “green corridors” as a strategy to reopen the borders using more entry airports like Clark, Cebu, Davao, Bohol, Puerto Princesa, among others, for direct flights.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit, hosted by the Philippines in March 2022, may be a litmus test for the industry. Although it will be held under hybrid conditions, the summit is expected to attract some 800 leaders from the private sector. and government tourism officials, as well as representatives of travel and trade companies and the international hospitality industry, while more than 30,000 delegates participate online.
The event will give DOT the chance to showcase the country’s breathtaking tourist destinations and allow local tourism players to listen to inspiring speakers on many relevant global topics, as well as discuss and share their perspectives. and their ideas with the travel giants of the world.
And as the tourism industry tries to restart, DOT is constantly reminding our foreign friends that “more fun awaits” in the Philippines. The agency’s new branding campaign has an advertisement running on CNN International, the BBC, CNBC, National Geographic and History Channel. (Last year it started with the “Wake Up in the Philippines” campaign.)
Under the most optimal conditions and best scenarios, the DOT targets foreign tourists to reach 5 million and domestic tourists 100 million by 2022.
For the 4.8 million tourism workers affected by the Covid losses, travel and tourism executives are keeping their fingers crossed it will happen.
Images courtesy of Viacheslav Dubrovnik | Dreamstime.com, Benjamin Remhof | Dreamstime.com and Bernard Testa