A popular artwork in BGC. Photo by Kenneth M. del Rosario.

Tourism in ASEAN countries (where the Philippines is a member country) was hit hard by the pandemic, just like other regions across the world. The trend is similar locally, where tourism experienced sharp decline in both international tourist arrivals and receipts since the outbreak began more than a year and a half ago.

The global pandemic has, in fact, profoundly changed the landscape of the tourism industry—“a change that is here to stay.”

That’s according to Satvinder Singh, deputy secretary-general for the ASEAN Economic Community, who spoke during a tourism forum celebrating the 54th ASEAN Founding Anniversary. Collectively building Southeast Asia as a single tourism destination is one of the long-term strategies that the region should explore to make a fast recovery.

Southeast Asian nations must work in a coordinated manner to safely reopen the tourism industry. Starting this year (to 2025), ASEAN tourism leaders must maximize digital technology to reinvent tourism services and bring new experiences that bank on safety amid the pandemic, he said.

“In the area of regional cooperation, recovery remains our short-to-medium term objective with ASEAN Tourism Cooperation being the key platform for us to engage and connect in promoting Southeast Asia as a single destination, ready for the demands and trends of the New Normal in Tourism,” said Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said Tuesday, who also gave a talk in the same event.

The speakers during the online event underscored the need to develop “common regional health protocols” to promote safe destinations as well as to foster sustainability in line with Asean’s shifts towards a “resilient, competitive, resource-efficient, and inclusive” carbon-neutral tourism sector.

Strengthening training and financing support programs for tourism workers is essential for them to remain competitive and resilient should similar crises arise.

Puyat said the Philippines is currently exerting its best to respond to the sector’s needs and to allow for the safe reopening of tourist destinations.

“Major milestones of the Department [of Tourism] include making our tourism workforce a top priority for the COVID-19 vaccination program of the government, and the recognition of the Philippines as part of the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Safe Travels Stamp campaign,” Puyat said.