In postpandemic tourism, local is king | Inquirer News

In postpandemic tourism, local is king

/ 05:10 AM June 14, 2020

With the easing of community lockdowns around the country this month, tourism industry players and local governments have found themselves in a difficult situation while charting the future of thousands displaced by the health crisis brought by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tourist destinations in southern Luzon, the cluster of regions closest to Metro Manila, have not been spared as job losses were reported when quarantines imposed by the national and local governments in March forced tourism-related establishments to close.

As the pandemic forced travel bans and movement restrictions, historic Corregidor Island in Cavite province, which normally draws 70,000 guests a year, was among the first sites to be shut down three months ago.


Elsewhere in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) region, canceled bookings and tours left hotels, beach resorts, campsites, nature retreats and religious destinations empty during what was supposed to be the peak season.


In Laguna, 760 hot spring resorts and swimming pools in Calamba suspended operations, said city tourism officer Larissa Malinao.

“We are really on the negative during the first two quarters [of 2020]. We had the Taal eruption [in Batangas in January]then this coronavirus. It’s double whammy,” said Marites Castro, the Department of Tourism (DOT) regional director.

BEST MAYON VIEW The Cagsawa Ruins at the village of Busay in Daraga, Albay, provides one of the best views of Mayon Volcano, Bicol region’s top attraction. Local governments in southern Luzon are hoping to entice more locals to visit to revive the tourism industry crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. —MARK ALVIC ESPLANA

Local travel

But hope lies on local tourists.

Councilor Matthew Mendoza, chair of the committee on tourism at the Puerto Princesa City council, said the industry would gradually reopen, targeting locals to visit destinations within Palawan mainland as the province’s borders remained closed to domestic travel.

“Tourism is one of the industries that can easily bounce back because people naturally want to travel,” Mendoza said.

Alberto Bay, Quezon tourism officer, said natural attractions had been given the chance to rest and heal during the three-month lockdown.


“The tourism industry is looking forward to more opportunities and developments as we enter the new normal … We can always see these lockdown months and the coming months as rest, or holiday for tourist destinations, giving them time to replenish and recover,” he said.

“Basically, nothing has changed with the destinations. The challenge is how to get back the trust of travelers, [assuring them] that the place is safe primarily from the virus,” Bay said.

PRISTINE El Nido’s limestone cliffs and pristine waters are among the reasons tourists visit Palawan, the country’s “last frontier.” —PHOTO COURTESY OF MICA VELOSO

Pandemic losses

Corregidor’s closure is likely to derail a government master plan to turn the wartime fortress in the Manila Bay into a prime tourism destination. This was after Sun Cruises Inc., a private service provider, announced that it was stopping ferry services and running the island’s hotel for the last three decades.

The Corregidor Foundation Inc. and the Tourism Promotions Board are now left looking for new ferry operators in the hope of reopening the island soon, at least for day tours.

The government of Cavite City is reviewing policies for a possible takeover of the island tours, the war ruins and the island’s amenities.

As of June 10, Calabarzon had lost P113.7 million due to the pandemic. The region’s tourist arrival (domestic and foreign) was down to 3,448,453 during the first quarter of this year, from 14,994,303 during the same period in 2019, the DOT said.

Guides displaced

In Rizal, about 3,000 tour guides in Tanay, mostly members of the Dumagat tribe, lost their income source after caves, waterfalls and mountain trails were closed to visitors, said Jeff Pino, municipal tourism officer.

In Palawan, displaced tour guides in the famous underground river in Puerto Princesa City were given training by the government for possible employment in business process outsourcing companies, said Chris Morales, the DOT director for Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan).

Around 36 percent of Palawan’s gross domestic income comes from the tourism sector.

According to Castro, the DOT in Calabarzon has been conducting a series of webinars with local governments and private tourism operators in preparation for reopening once the quarantine is lifted.

Under relaxed protocols, leisure establishments are allowed to resume but only at half their normal guest capacity. An establishment must also secure a certificate of authority to operate from the DOT to prove that it has installed sanitary and hygiene amenities, and has a detailed plan of enforcing physical distancing among its guests.

Some business owners, however, viewed this as “added costs.”

HISTORY PRESERVED Part of the Philippines’ wartime history is preserved on Corregidor Island, where Filipino and American troops made their last stand against the Japanese during World War II. —PHOTO COURTESY OF ALLAN BELLA


“The status quo won’t work anymore,” Morales said, adding that health and sanitation had become part of tourism rebranding to attract travelers.

He said the DOT was implementing a phase-by-phase recovery plan for the industry—first by focusing on local tourists and later, foreign guests.

“Full recovery may not come until 2022,” Morales said.

In landlocked Calabarzon, the majority of tourists are domestic travelers. But it is a different case for islands in Mimaropa, with most tourist sites accessible by commercial and chartered flights.

Morales said help from the national and local governments was needed to improve health and safety measures in airports and tourist sites, like putting up quarantine and medical facilities. He said it was the only way to attract and regain the confidence of foreign tourists to visit the islands.

In Bicol, the DOT is also looking at virtual tours for the region’s tourism sites while travel restrictions are in place.

“When the travel movements are eased, gradually, we can go to interprovince travel,” said Fe Buela, the DOT regional officer in charge. “This is a good opportunity for our local destinations to gain attention from the local market.”

In Naga City, at least 12 hotels had already been approved to reopen as of Wednesday.

Alec Francis Santos, head of the city’s arts, culture and tourism office, said 617 tourism-related enterprises, both registered and those that have not yet been registered, had already been assessed.

Santos said his office was also assisting the DOT regional office and local tourism offices in Sorsogon and Camarines Norte provinces, and Caramoan town in Camarines Sur province in crafting their tourism guidelines.

“We developed an online self-evaluation tools for accommodations, resorts, restaurants and spas,” Santos said. “We consolidated relevant guidelines from DOT, the Department of Health, Department of Trade and Industry, and Naga [government] into self-evaluation tools so businesses can determine how ready they are to operate under the ‘new normal,’” he said.

“If the timeline we projected is followed, we can expect domestic tourists to travel mostly by land to Bicol,” Santos said, noting that 85 percent of Naga’s 1.5 million visitors in 2019 were local tourists.

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—Reports from Maricar Cinco, Delfin Mallari Jr., Romar Miranda, and Rey Anthony Ostria

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TAGS: coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, local tourism, Quarantine

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