Domestic demand remains the silver lining of Philippine tourism in the wake of the pandemic, which has given destinations plagued by overtourism time to recover and rethink their tourism policies.
Domestic tourism has been the saving grace of the Philippines’ post-pandemic travel recovery, given its estimated population of 110 million – the second-largest in Southeast Asia – who are eager to travel.
This gold mine is a source of hope in difficult times like this when international tourism is drying up.
Consider this: in 2019, the Philippines recorded 109.75 million domestic trips that generated 3.14 trillion pesos ($62.7 billion) in tourism revenue, eclipsing the $9.5 billion in foreign exchange earnings. of the 8.26 million foreign arrivals.
It plunged to 24.35 million domestic trips in 2020, stalled and delayed by pandemic lockdowns from March this year.
“Bringing in just half of domestic tourism revenue in 2019 would be ‘more than enough’ for tourism to recover,” joked Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa) president Cesar Cruz.
Tourism is already beginning to take hold. “It’s still not as great, but moving, especially due to the fact that there are areas with fully vaccinated workers and population,” said Aileen Clemente, president and president of Rajah Travel Corp.
Concordantly, Hotel Sales and Marketing Association (HSMA) President Margie Munsayac observed that “Local Government Units (LGUs) are slowly opening up borders, restrictions are easing and new products are being offered in every LGU – and this inspires Filipinos to consider exploring the various attractions of the Philippines once again”.
“We believe our patriotism will pay off. Filipinos will support local tourism which boosts economic activities as well as employment in the tourism industry,” Munsayac said.
The outlook is indeed optimistic insofar as for several months, travel advisors have started to offer organized trips locally and abroad. One of them, Ritchie Tuano, head of Asiareps Travel, has formed a consortium with seven other travel agencies to sell attractive packages in collaboration with airline partners, hotels and local tour operators in order to “relaunch tourism “.
“We’re offering travelers packages at great prices of up to 30% off, while helping destinations slowly rebuild their business,” Tuano said.
While the Omicron variant prompted the country to delay the reopening of its international borders, originally scheduled for December 2021, hotels in destinations including Metro Manila and nearby Tagaytay reported a resumption of domestic bookings, ahead of the peak holiday season.
A good sign is that HSMA’s September online sale “had doubled its 2022 sales compared to 2021, with Metro Manila, Tagaytay, Boracay, Bohol and Cebu (emerging) as preferred destinations,” Munsayac said, adding that triple the number of vouchers were sold as catering and banquet deals were also on sale in addition to accommodation.
The industry’s recovery has also been spurred by Balikbayans or returning Filipinos residing abroad – mainly from the United States, which is the country’s third-largest source market – escaping the winter to visit relatives and friends back home. Another boon to the sector are Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who make regular home visits, bringing friends and colleagues from their home country.
Returning and departing OFWs have proven a lifeline for quarantine hotels that would otherwise have little revenue amid the pandemic.
Additionally, the pause in tourism has given overcrowded destinations, including Boracay, some much-needed rest and regeneration. Certainly, the carrying capacity of Boracay and other destinations will need to be implemented within the safe travel protocols developed by the Department of Tourism (DoT) and the destinations’ respective LGUs.
Clemente said that “because of the closures, one thing that really needed attention is research. A lot is happening now, as well as inventorying tourism assets, measuring sustainability and carrying capacity.”
The lull in travel has also been an opportune time to build and improve infrastructure, including the new high-tech terminal at Clark International Airport, Camiguin Domestic Airport and the soft opening of the luxurious Okura Hotel. Manila.
It also paves the way for the improvement of Philippine tourism products and the development of new products to accommodate changing traveler preferences. A DoT survey of domestic travel showed that travelers prioritize outdoor spaces and activities, leaning towards ecotourism, rural and farm tourism.
Clemente has seen other outdoor rural developments – a trend she says will grow, alongside the spread of greater use of the country’s coasts for sightseeing.
She expressed hope that operators will develop more farm tours that promote agricultural products indigenous to the Philippines and cannot be found anywhere else.
Along that line, Cruz said Philtoa has created several tour packages with outdoor activities; and developed mainly interzonal nature and gastronomy-focused farm tourism packages within the island of Luzon.
Alas, as the Philippines’ tourism recovery gathers momentum, the industry is facing another blow, with Typhoon Odette thwarting travel recovery in parts of the country.
But if there’s one thing the pandemic has shed light on, it’s the resilience of the tourism industry. Looking ahead, the Philippines plans to build a more sustainable and resilient tourism economy.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the Philippines has already “transitioned to high-value, low-impact, low-density travel that provides more meaningful and immersive experiences between a tourist and local communities.”
Romulo-Puyat plans to continue to empower rural communities in tandem with LGUs to manage their own attractions while practicing responsible and sustainable tourism.
The pandemic has taught us that “it is no longer enough to have the best destinations because we must also ensure above all that they are safe”, she said, adding that the country’s tourism recovery plan is rooted in the durability that the DoT has long advocated.
She said: “What is the point of stimulating the recovery when it only benefits us in the short term?… The socio-economic benefits must also accrue to future generations.