Stay at home. This has been the universal advice of Philippine public officials and health experts as a line of defense against Covid-19.
The country's tourism officials are developing a variant of that advice as they work to gradually revive domestic travel amid the pandemic: Travel at home.
Players in the tourism and technology industries recently put their heads together to provide insights and draw up guidelines for protocols for safe and sustainable tourism in the new normal.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that while the country is still dealing with the health crisis, “there has never been a better time to push for developing more inclusive technology to help tourism stakeholders manage disasters.”
Al Panlilio, president and CEO of Smart Communications, Inc., said the telco is one with the tourism industry in finding ways “to gradually and safely revive the confidence and excitement of Filipinos to travel and discover the beauty of the Philippines.” Tourism is a major source of livelihood, so helping the industry recover from the impact of Covid-19 will benefit many Filipinos, he said.
Adaptability and empathy are words that come to mind in dealing with the current situation, said Ramon R. Isberto, PLDT and Smart public affairs group head. “Adaptability means change, as in shifting to digital tools. At the same time, have empathy. Understand your customers and design tools and activities that will address their concerns,” he said.
The leaders shared their experience with community-backed sustainable tourism and explained how digital technology can be an essential tool in promoting local tourism even during the pandemic.
The dialogue comes as the Department of Tourism (DOT) celebrates the citation of Palawan as Best Island in the World, for the fourth time, by the renowned Travel + Leisure magazine. Boracay ranked 14th in the world and fifth in Asia.
Palawan is set to resume tourism activities in three towns, with safety and health protocols in place. These are Coron, San Vicente, and El Nido, home to Hidden Beach, named one of the 30 Best Beaches in the World by Conde Nast Traveler.
A recent study shows that Filipino travelers are looking at destinations closer to home amid health concerns, thus spurring domestic tourism to lead the recovery of the industry.
Filipino travelers also prefer online booking, digital payments, and self-service processes such as contactless check-in, according to the study, conducted jointly by the DOT, the Asian Institute of Management Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism, and Guide to the Philippines.
The study further said that domestic tourism is the biggest contributor to the tourism industry, accounting for about 10.8 percent of the 12.7 percent gross domestic product (GDP).
During the dialogue, Max Limpag, founder of InnoPub Media, cited projects of the Digital Tourism program, which provides digital boost to local projects and tourism activities. Rolled out in 2012 jointly by Smart and InnoPub Media, the program involves the development of mobile applications, onsite installation of interactive tourism markers, and the provision of training sessions for tourism stakeholders to enable the delivery of tourism, cultural, and historical information to mobile devices.
Joselito “Boboi” Costas, founder of Grassroots Travel, and Jomelyn Manigos. vice president of Bojo Aloquinsan Ecotourism Association, shared their insights on the benefits of community-backed sustainable tourism.
Other speakers were executives from PLDT and PayMaya. PLDT vice president Carlo S. Ople shared his expertise in digital marketing and how it can be harnessed by tourism players to further boost their business and initiatives. Marvin Santos, PayMaya Philippines enterprise head for the public sector, discussed the crucial role of fintech and digital payments as the future of transactions in the new normal.
Forbes magazine has ranked the Philippines among the seven countries “that have the potential to become a major tourist destination in a post-COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the DOT website.
To nurture this potential, the department has been airing promotional videos showcasing spectacular sceneries and exciting activities, such as underwater virtual tours and cooking lessons by celebrity chefs. The campaign calls on Filipinos to “Stay at home, dream, and wake up in the Philippines.”
With the cooperation of government agencies, LGUs, and the private sector, Puyat said, “we can begin to rebuild the tourism industry as we have envisioned it to be: sustainable, safe and still more fun in the Philippines.”