It must be ‘all hands on deck’ to help protect PH tourism

Published May 18, 2022, 12:06 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Among the most affected by the pandemic is the hospitality and tourism industry when lockdowns and quarantines forced hotels, resorts, bed-and-breakfast inns, amusement parks, etc. to shut their doors. Suddenly, the thriving and booming tourism sector faced its worst nightmare – airports were closed, tours got called off, room bookings were cancelled, events were put on hold indefinitely.

For a country that relied on tourism for decades to boost the local economy and employ thousands of workers, the global health pandemic in March 2020 was a tragedy that no one had predicted.  It should be noted that prior to the pandemic, the tourism sector contributed US$92.6 billion to the economy, which plummeted to only US$17.8 billion in 2020.

Fast forward two years and there is currently a semblance of normalcy due to the low number of new Covid cases. Even after the campaign season and the elections, health experts saw no spike in Covid numbers, allowing them to recommend to the IATF the extension of Alert Level 1 until the end of the month.

With this encouraging news, it seems it is “business as usual” as the country remains open to tourists from countries with low Covid cases. But it is not enough to just “open” the doors of businesses involved in tourism – the government and stakeholders must now work hand-in-hand to strengthen the industry to make it ready, responsive, and resilient so that it can withstand and survive any future “shocks.”

In a report entitled “Supporting Post Covid-19 Economic Recovery in Southeast Asia” by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) last May 13, 2022, it said that the Covid-19 crisis has “exacerbated the tourism industry’s pre-pandemic structural challenges.”

“Prior to the pandemic, the tourism sector was beset with four structural challenges – first, there was over reliance on foreign tourists with focus on a few destinations; second, a lack of infrastructure outside major destinations; third, high informal employment; and last, the (tourism sector in Southeast Asia) only attracted low-cost travelers.”

The structural challenges, the ADB added, worsened when Covid-19 struck and created new challenges for the industry.

“Now that tourists are more aware of the importance of health precautions, it has become a crucial consideration in selecting travel destinations. Moreover, there are indications that Covid-19 could lead to a fundamental decline in long-haul international tourism, which was exacerbated by the adoption of digital tools for virtual meetings, conferences, and events tourism,” the ADB reported.

To address these concerns, the regional bank suggested four policy response areas for tourism.

“The first is focusing on ways to restore demand as well as strengthening domestic tourism by developing marketing campaigns to convince travelers it is safe to travel. Second is building new channels of demand to diversify tourist destinations and develop lesser-known points of interest, while tapping into high growth segments like ecotourism, health and premium wellness experiences, and halal tourism,” said the ADB.

Meanwhile, the third involves capacity building to support future digital demand, touching on the need for authorities to invest in training workers in both digital and non-digital skills to tackle the issues of low pay and informality.

The fourth calls for increasing industry resilience, where the tourism industry in each country must work closely with governments to improve communication channels.

“Creating a permanent crisis management task force may also ensure that a country’s tourism sector is better able to cope with future shocks,” the ADB said.

All of these suggestions form part of an “all hands on deck” approach to ensure that no matter what happens in the world’s affairs, our tourism industry will not be crippled and deemed “useless” because of the lack of foreign tourists or cancellation of plane flights.  Since it is more fun in the Philippines, we now have to make it safer for all.