Travel experts suggest PHL adopt inter-island travel corridors to help tourism recover

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INTERNATIONAL tourism and travel experts have high hopes for the recovery of the Philippines tourism industry, starting with the tapping of the domestic market.

In a webinar co-hosted by the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Polollikashvili noted, “For many years, the Philippines has been a global tourism leader. The sector has supported many jobs and it’s an important part of the developing economy. And tourists will return to country, and in fact, in some countries around the world, restrictions on travel are now being eased and steps are being taken to get towards moving again…. I’m confident this will soon be the case in the Philippines. The job now is to make sure that we are ready.”

Jesper Palmqvist, STR area director for Asia Pacific, said in the short term, the domestic market will be a driver of the Philippines’ recovery. “[It] has this powerful domestic tourism engine — you’ve got the beaches, the locations and products are often good for social distance. Not everyone has that so inherently, it’s possible to reboot that way.”

He noted, “The Philippines is unique because it can create travel bubbles within the country, which regions are safer and better equipped to do so.” The concept of travel bubbles or international travel corridors arose in the Europe Union, where some low-risk countries have already started lifting travel restrictions.

In 2018, the Philippines recorded 111 million domestic tourists, while foreign visitors were at 7.1 million. 

Also, Palmqvist said, in the mid-term, the Philippines needs to “diversify” its key markets even as China and South Korea have started to recover from Covid-19. South Korea and China are the top two source markets of tourists for the Philippines, which at 5.72 million, accounted for 67.6 percent of the 8.26-million international tourist arrivals in 2019.

For the long-term, “It’s so easy for me as a neutral person see the potential; so many people are yet to discover the Philippines.  What is the 10 million arrivals compared to that huge 120 million domestic visits? It can happen quick, to grow the arrivals — Vietnam and Japan did that in just a few years from low to  huge numbers.”

In response to a question on how the Philippines could encourage tourists to come here again, Sandra Carvao, chief of UNWTO’s Tourism Market and Intelligence Competitiveness, said, “Some research shows that for the moment people are still afraid because they don’t know. You know, ‘what if I get sick on my travel, who takes care of me? What if I get sick at the destination?’ And I think for example [the DOT] showed how the Philippines took care of the tourists. I think that’s a very powerful message. I think that’s worthwhile to improve saying that, you know something happens. We’re here for you.”

To date, the DOT was able to help 27,620 foreign tourists in terms of coordinating with national and local government units, embassies, and carriers in mounting sweeper and commercial recovery flights, land and sea transportation, provision of meals, and accommodation arrangements.

She also suggested the DOT’s website should clearly state information for tourists. “If I go to the website of the Philippine tourism it needs to be clearly said, ‘what am I expected in terms of rules and regulations? Where can I travel?’ and in terms of tours operating,  I think the cancellation policies will be critical.”

Carvao likewise endorsed the idea of a travel corridor among island destinations in the Philippines, as a targeted approach in helping the industry to recover. “As countries start to open, domestic tourism will be the first to recover because people, first of all, will feel comfortable within their own destinations…. Often in the past, domestic tourism has been seen as a buffer, but in times of crisis, and we’ve seen it in the past, the domestic market is always a pillar of recovery. So it is a good moment to actually look at the domestic market with new eyes after Covid-19.”

Image credits: Stephanie Tumampos

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