Note: This was originally posted as a status last April 17. Some information have been updated.The last pandemic happened more than a century ago. The travel and tourism industry, as we know it now, was virtually non-existent then. Most people lived and died within their respective countries.The advent of globalization and the popularization of mass travel allowed people to travel beyond borders and explore the beauty of our world. Supply chains and global markets expanded, encouraging business travel. This flow and exchange of people and money gave birth to our tourism and travel industry, leading to the creation of new types of enterprises that cater to the needs of travelers, and creating much-needed jobs at the community level. Now, we are faced with the challenge of surviving through this dark phase in our industry’s history. Travel bans, quarantines, and lockdowns have virtually deprived our industry of our markets. Supply chains that support our tourism enterprises are also at risk of collapsing.Navigating through the dark can be a scary proposition. What we need now, more than ever, is to understand clearly what our industry is facing and to break down our fears into manageable challenges. For every problem, there is a solution. The UNWTO recommends that any efforts from the industry must be focused on three key areas:
1. Managing the crisis and mitigating the impact
2. Providing stimulus and accelerating recovery
3. Preparing for the future It might be tempting to simply have an optimistic view and assume that things will go back to the way there were before the Luzon ECQ, but the reality is, things have changed permanently for our industry. We should not expect a quick or elastic rebound. Travel bans and quarantines are not the same as the cure to Covid-19. At best, we are looking at 2-3 years before life and business can go back to where it was before. So, to make better sense of the period post-ECQ, we should think of the following phases: 1. Phase 1 (0-3 months after ECQ lifting / June-August 2020) – travel will most likely be limited to the Bicol Region, and most people will be travelling for official or essential purposes such as processing of government, business, or academic documents. Tourism enterprises need to manage their cash flows since there will be very little income coming in. The focus during this period is SURVIVAL. Hopefully, DOLE will resume CAMP to cover and prioritize tourism businesses. If not, then tourism MSMEs should take full advantage of the DOF’s Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) to at least augment their employees’ income. LGUs should also assist informal tourism workers such as guides and microenterprises by facilitating their application for wage subsidy under the DOLE’s TUPAD.This phase is crucial for the immediate survival of tourism enterprises and their employees hence the urgent need for readily-available cash. The important role of the tourism offices will be highlighted during the first 2 to 3 months after the ECQ since they will have to identify, encourage, and support qualified tourism businesses to have access to survival funds. Some microenterprises such as travel and tourism enterprises may see the need to consolidate their resources (join forces) to save on cash and protect or combine their remaining client base. The government must introduce safety measures to protect employees before they can be allowed to return to their workplace. Regular monitoring by the DOT, LGUs and their tourism offices must be conducted to ensure that tourism businesses are complying with social distancing, protection, and reporting policies.

In terms of destination management, the government must come to the realization that the international tourism and travel industry will undergo a significant change in terms of market preferences. Travelers will understandably be wary of visiting popular destinations frequented by people. The next “big thing” will be lesser-known destinations and attractions. To avoid another repeat of over-commercialization, destination planners and managers need to impose limits on carrying capacity and screen potential visitors. The focus should be on quality tourists, not quantity. In the lull left behind by the rapid decline in international travel, governments can adopt truly sustainable measures to protect natural and cultural resources and avoid exploitation. This approach will also boost micro, small, and medium tourism enterprises located in less popular tourist attractions. 2. Phase 2 (4-9 months after ECQ lifting, September 2020-February 2021) – depending on how the infection rate is managed in Metro Manila, Bicol can expect a slow and steady return of domestic tourists, mostly traveling by land. Many inter-regional travel will be by government employees and officials. Government-organized events such as seminars and trainings will be crucial sources of revenue for accommodations and MICE facilities. Majority of travel will be for personal and leisure purposes. Ample training and preparation for proper social-distancing and sanitizing protocols must be conducted during Phase 1.At this stage, tourism enterprises should rebuild their businesses and client base by focusing on inbound domestic tourists. But before this, tourism enterprises must have applied for and secured the necessary requirements during the second half of Phase 1 (1.5 months after ECQ) to avail of the loan facilities offered by the DBP (RESPONSE), LBP (I-Rescue), DTI-SBC’s (P3-ERF). Suppliers such as farmers and fisherfolk should also access the DA-ACPC’s zero-interest loans during the same prescribed period of Phase 1. The LGU and DOT can establish special offices to assist tourism enterprises and suppliers or retool existing tourism offices to facilitate. National government agencies and LGUs may look to Japan for inspiration and adopt principles related to their sixth sector industrialization. Fiscal support such as soft loans must have conditions that prioritize the localization of supply chains and the establishment of B2B connections among tourism stakeholders.There will be a fundamental shift in the demand for tourism workers. Restaurants will rely more on take-out and delivery services, reducing the need for servers. However, accommodations and resorts will see clients demanding higher sanitation and housekeeping standards. This may mean an increase in job opportunities for housekeeping staff. The DOT can conduct and increase the frequency of housekeeping training activities during Phase 2 in anticipation of the return of domestic travelers. Housekeeping training modules must be updated to reflect the radical shift towards medical disinfection against viruses. 3. Phase 3 (10-18 months after ECQ lifting, March-November 2021) – Depending on the commercial availability of a vaccine against Covid-19, domestic travel might return to around 75% of pre-ECQ levels. International tourists may regain confidence to travel to the Philippines, depending on global economic conditions. Tourists from western countries may resume traveling back to tropical destinations from the fourth quarter of 2021 onwards.By this time, tourism enterprises in Bicol must have rebuilt their brands or rebranded entirely, identified new markets, and diversified their products. Digital proficiency is now a fundamental and sought-after asset. Increased collaboration between industry players is now a norm. The tourism industry in Bicol must embrace the idea of a circular economy and localize their supply chains, learning from the mistakes of too much reliance on global logistics. 4. Phase 4 (19 months after ECQ lifting, December 2021 onwards) – The global GDP has recovered to levels nearing those before the pandemic. The vaccine for Covid-19 has been in production and is being distributed to all affected countries. Vaccination programs are now implemented for the general population. International business travelers exhibit cautious optimism.Tourism enterprises in Bicol must fully incorporate medical safety protocols in their operations. Tourism enterprises who form strong business partnerships with local suppliers and competitors stand a stronger chance of weathering future emergencies.These are just some of my observations based on various outlooks presented by economists and the current state of the government’s response to the pandemic.To recap, we need to do three things in Bicol to make sure our tourism industry can survive, adapt, and thrive:
1. Quickly adopt survival mechanisms (government subsidies, employee protection policies)
2. Access fiscal and non-fiscal support and focus on low-hanging fruits (soft loans from government financial institutions, shift to regional and domestic travel)
3. Future-proof ourselves (digital proficiency, product and market diversification)It won’t be an easy road to recovery. Businesses will close, jobs will be lost. But if we take stock of where we are and what we need to do, businesses will remain open or reopen, and jobs will be kept or created. Nothing worth doing is ever easy but things can get easier if we do it together.