A beachfront villa for sale in the island of Siargao, named as Conde Nast’s “best island in the world” in 2018.

The Philippines is capitalizing on local tourism circuits as a way to encourage the gradual and sustainable return of domestic tourism across the country and support the local hotel and travel industry.

A tourism circuit is a cluster of tourism attractions within a geographic area, grouped together for marketing purposes. These attractions include a variety of travel experiences, including nature, farm, culinary, beach, and dive tourism. Tourism circuits can either be inter-regional or intra-regional and are dependent on the readiness of local government units.

This is according to Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, who spoke during the the recently held webinar titled “Hotel Outlook: The Road Back to Business” jointly organized by the British Chamber of Commerce Philippines and leading real estate consultancy Santos Knight Frank.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) has so far developed 44 tourism circuits around the Philippines with 71 more in the pipeline.

With international and domestic travel disrupted by the pandemic, the hospitality industry still faces mounting challenges. Hotels that have continued operations have looked at ways to innovate and pivot their businesses to services such as F&B delivery and acting as quarantine or isolation facilities. 

The speakers at the “Hotel Outlook: The Road Back to Business” webinar.

According to the DOT, 644 accommodation establishments are currently used as quarantine facilities, 88 as isolation hotels, and 114 as multiple-use hotels nationwide as of September 3.

“The hotel and tourism sectors are some of the worst-hit real estate asset classes across the world. Hotels have been forced to pivot, innovate, and explore financing options to sustain their operations. We have seen an increasing number of hotels in the Philippines which are now looking at repurposing their spaces for other uses, such as office and residential, and retrofitting their facilities to address safety and health protocols,” said Rick Santos, chairman & CEO of Santos Knight Frank.

Santos said their group sees opportunities in the hotel sector for offshore capital and international equity to come in and fund rehabilitation and acquisition activities. As the proportion of fully vaccinated individuals in the country increases, investors are likely to acquire or finance distressed hotel assets and capitalize on tourism and hospitality in the long term. 

Referencing a study made by the Asian Institute of Management, Puyat said that Filipinos are looking forward to traveling again, especially to enhance physical and mental well-being and relieve themselves of cabin fever.

“The intention to travel is there. The next challenge is to get Filipinos to travel in the midst of the pandemic,” Puyat said.  There’s a lot of missed opportunities in travel. In 2019, there were some 110 million domestic trips and 8.26 million international arrivals to the Philippines.

“In terms of international tourism arrivals … we’re already preparing the entry especially of fully vaccinated individuals. Right now, there is a special working group in the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) that is looking into particular green lanes that we can open up for vaccinated travelers in the future,” said OIC-Undersecretary for Tourism Development Verna Buensuceso.

Meanwhile, Chris Nelson, executive director and trustee of the British Chamber of Commerce Philippines, applauded the DOT and the accommodation sector for vaccinating 98.84 percent of tourism frontliners in accommodation establishments belonging in A1 Priority Group, including the tourism workers in regular hotels belonging in A4 Priority Group in the National Capital Region.

“The BCCP recognizes that health and safety remains the primary concern of travelers. But for this reason, only through effective management of COVID-19 infection and moving away from prolonged lockdowns, the government can assure business and travelers confidence. Through this measure, the British Chamber remains optimistic about the outlook for the Philippines tourism and  hotel sector in 2021,” Nelson said.