COVID-19 catastrophic impact on tourism



Atty. Joey D. Lina Atty. Joey D. Lina

How badly hit is the tourism, hotel and restaurant industry by the global covid-19 pandemic?

Wearing my hat as hotelier for almost thirteen years as president of the historic Manila Hotel, my definite answer to the question is: very, very bad – with unprecedented loss of income and jobs.

Will the industry recover? Yes, eventually, but recovery may take a short two years or a long period of five years, depending on when a vaccine against the coronavirus is developed, or when a cure is proven effective.

Tourist travels in the world have dropped by double digits during the first quarter of 2020 with as much as 57 percent in March, a report of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said.  In the Philippines, tourist arrivals for January to April this year declined by 54 percent, from 2.8 million to 1.3 million, according to Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.

In her testimony at a Senate committee hearing last May 20  on the impact of Covid-19, Sec. Puyat also said that revenue from tourist arrivals in the Philippines last January to April decreased by 55 percent, from P180.5 billion to P79.8 billion, compared to figures during the same period in 2019.

As for the rest of 2020 with the pandemic still raging, prospects for international tourism appear dim. In its latest report, the UNTWO said “current scenarios point to declines of 58% to 78% in international tourist arrivals for the year, depending on the speed of the containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders, although the outlook remains highly uncertain.”

Around 100 to 200 million direct tourism jobs worldwide are at risk, the report said. “This is by far the worst result in the historical series of international tourism since 1950 and would put an abrupt end to a 10-year period of sustained growth since the 2009 financial crisis,” the UNTWO said.

Tourists constitute the bulk of hotel guests, and about 40 percent of guests are business travelers. At the Manila Hotel before the pandemic, travelling businessmen, local tourists, airline crews, delegates to live-in conventions and seminars, and those attending socials comprised a large portion of the hotel's room guests.

When the coronavirus crisis struck, banquets and other events had been cancelled or rescheduled to later months and even years. Food lovers suddenly stopped dining out. Those who normally hang out in hotel bars have vanished suddenly.

Worse, the government banned local and foreign travels on land, air, and sea, and disallowed hotels and restaurants to operate, except for limited lodging guests such as OFWS, stranded passengers, and workers from nearby enterprises allowed by government to open.

Workers numbering in the millions have lost or will lose their jobs in this industry which is among the most labor-intensive sectors of the economy, and whose businesses would suffer immeasurably and might even go bankrupt and close permanently. Pilots, flight attendants, ground personnel and many others whose jobs depend on the operation of airlines, commercial or private, will be out of work.

What is the road to recovery of this industry hardest hit by the pandemic? Many of the brilliant minds in the industry have been groping for answers.

"The critical issue is to build confidence between countries that it is safe to reopen borders without risk of reinfection and to build confidence in the general public that it is safe to fly," according John Holland-Kaye, CEO of the busiest airport in Europe, the Heathrow Airport in London.

"A quick and effective restart of travel will only happen if governments around the world agree to a common set of health protocols developed by the private sector," according to the WTTC which said it is “working with governments and travel organizations to agree on standardized health checks and cleaning protocols.”

Our own Department of Tourism has already come up with “new normal” guidelines for industry establishments on “areas of guest handling, reception and concierge, rooms and housekeeping, food and beverage service, kitchen sanitation and disinfection, public areas, hotel and transport service, engineering and maintenance service, business practices and management, and suppliers of goods and services.”

With health checks and enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols, such guidelines will hopefully go a long way in boosting confidence of travelers, diners, and hotel guests whose patronage is crucial in reviving the tourism industry.

But in the short and medium term, government and the private sector must find ways and means to create thousands of jobs for those who will certainly be jobless.