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Hotels losing quarantine guests ask for ‘lifeline’

PHOA Executive Director Benito C. Bengzon Jr.

MEMBERS of the Philippine Hotel Owners Association (PHOA) are requesting government for a stimulus program to stem their losses from the removal of quarantine guests.

Guest panelists at Wednesday’s Kapihan sa Manila Bay generally welcomed the reopening of the country to international tourism. But PHOA Executive Director Benito C. Bengzon Jr. said, “What we would like is some kind of financial assistance coming from the government to help tide us over in the next six to 12 months.”

He explained, “Many of our hotels are recording single-digit occupancy [because] many of them have been banking on quarantine guests for their revenue stream. So this has been [halted] almost completely and has therefore affected the revenue stream. Moving forward, as we open borders to international traffic, it is important to provide a lifeline to the hotels which have been suffering.”

He noted an average 200-room hotel will need some “P5 million and up [every month] to keep it going. We want to keep our hotels operating. We want to maintain our employees. We don’t want to let them go because we realize that when hotels close, it will be even more difficult to restart.” PHOA has over 300 members nationwide, with 89 in Metro Manila operating as quarantine hotels.

Government has allowed the entry of vaccinated foreign tourists from visa-free countries starting February 10, without having to quarantine in hotels. They are also exempt from the 5,000-arrivals quota at the Manila airport. (See, “Vaxxed tourists exempt from Naia arrivals cap,” in the BusinessMirror, February 7, 2022.)

Applications for hotel conversion

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat, who was also a guest, countered, however, “As of today, quarantine hotels still have an occupancy of 67 percent. These are the on-signers and off-signers, these are OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), when they go abroad, they have to quarantine.” It also includes “a few who are unvaxxed—10 percent of the OFWs are still unvaxxed so they need to quarantine. They still have long-staying guests and corporate accounts.”

She added, 76 hotels in Metro Manila have already applied to shift from being quarantine facilities to regular hotels. “A lot of them want to go back to normal but it will take time. It won’t mean the foreign tourists will come in droves immediately. It depends on the tourists’ leaves or their kids’ school vacation, and what markets they are coming from. What is important is we are open.”

Of the applicants, she said 14 hotels have been approved for conversion to regular hotels. Among these are: Ramada Hotel, Microtel by Wyndham-Acropolis, Azumi Boutique Hotel, Joy Nostalg, Seda Residences-Makati, Nuwa at the City of Dreams. The approved 14 hotels have a total of 1,326 rooms, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Guidelines for the applications in shift in hotel purpose were issued by the DOT on January 31, 2022 under Administrative Order No. 2022-001.

New products, same destinations

For his part, Tourism Congress of the Philippines president Jose C. Clemente III said, of the tourist destinations in the country, foreign visitors were mostly inquiring about Boracay, Palawan, Cebu, and Bohol. “We’ve also been receiving inquiries for new products and new ideas that they can use for their programs; these are mostly from long-haul markets like Europe. They’re looking for more tactile activities, more interactive, more in-depth kinds of activities. Many of them are still looking for beach stays.”

Walid Wafik, vice president of the SM Hotels and Convention Corp. said their properties will maintain their rates as they focus on domestic leisure guests and bookings for MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, exhibitions). “We won’t take advantage of the situation (i.e., reopening).  We have accepted the losses and we have dealt with it to the best we can…. Last thing we want is to increase prices for that.”

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