By Hanah Tabios
The massive shutdown of borders has prompted some Filipino travelers to cancel their flights amid the threat of the dreaded coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Take the case of Bicol native Mark Lester Urbano, 26. He was supposed to go on a trip to Hong Kong last March, but was cancelled after President Duterte imposed the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine and international flights outside the region were suspended.
With the prevailing crisis, Urbano’s decision to travel again would no longer depend on promo flights offered by airline companies, but on health security.
His thoughts echo the results of the recent Domestic Sentiment Survey conducted from May 8 to 22 of this year by Filinvest Corporation and Chroma Hospitality, Inc., in partnership with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and its attached agencies.
The survey showed that 85 percent of the 7,515 respondents, mostly from Metro Manila, rated health and safety as the number one factor in their travel decisions, followed by availability of COVID-19 vaccine with 22 percent, then travel location and costing.
The pandemic has clearly changed the mindset of tourists, with the survey showing that travelers are now prioritizing sanitation in all public spaces they will pass through, followed by services, amenities, and safety practices of accommodation establishments.
Surprisingly, travelers are now less concerned about the availability of common areas, like meeting rooms, swimming pools, buffet stations, spas, and gyms – basically the possible drivers of the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Of the total respondents, the survey showed that millennials (26 to 40 years old) and generation X (41 to 55 years old) will be the first group to travel domestically. But majority of respondents across all age groups still opt to travel by air, followed by land.
The top local travel destinations picked by travelers are: Boracay (14 percent), Palawan (12 percent), Other Luzon (9 percent), Cebu (8 percent), Baguio (8 percent), Manila (6 percent), Bohol (5 percent), Tagaytay (5 percent), Other Visayas (5 percent), and Batangas (4 percent).
The same survey showed that the immediate domestic demand from previous levels – measured in terms of desire, frequency, and budget for travel – will decrease due to economic and safety concerns.
In the pre-COVID-19, 48 percent of the respondents said they travel two to four times a year.
“Concerns about income, job security, and work demands affected their desire to travel as 66% of respondents experienced pay cuts resulting in 10% to 80% income reduction,” the survey results showed.
If tourism officials maintain the same enthusiasm, domestic travel demand is poised to substantially recover within a 12-month period, with leisure plans as the driving factor.
Based on the same survey, it showed that 29 percent of the respondents said they want to travel in one to three months after travel restrictions have been lifted, while 61 percent expressed their desire to travel in six to 12 months.
“Out of the 7,515 respondents, 74% of respondents indicated that their first trip will be leisure oriented. Overall domestic traveler’s preferences for their travel have not changed post COVID-19,” it added.
This holds true as some local travelers have been anticipating the reopening of borders in some of the country’s tourist hotpots, like Boracay Island which opened its doors to Western Visayas residents staring June 16.
Travelers’ choice to book directly with hotels and airlines and prefer full service in budget accommodation establishments have not changed, though the average budget now is P1,000 to P3,000 to cover costs of accommodation, transportation, and tours.
Meanwhile, in terms of business travel demand, roughly 26 percent of respondents said they will travel within the first three months for business. The leading travelers that would drive this travel demand are those coming from Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), construction, electrical, gas and water, mining and quarrying, professional, technical activities, water, sewerage, wastewater management, and remediation services.