Ebola ‘bola’

column-Rodel Alzona-a differen viewSome years ago, the wife and I completely avoided eating beef for almost a whole year. There was no beef in the refrigerator, and at restaurants, we avoided ordering anything that had beef in it.

Those were some really weird days for us. Whenever we were at either McDonald’s or Jollibee, we were thinking that people were just as paranoid as we were because they were not eating burgers, and were instead having chicken.

If you do not have any idea what I am talking about, it was the time when the mad-cow disease was very much in the national news.

That all ended on Christmas Day where, after a visit to relatives, we found our feet leading us to Greenhills.

We convinced ourselves that maybe, just maybe, after avoiding beef for months, it was already safe to smell, put in a spoon, and have beef in our mouth and down our stomach.

Our friends always gazed at us in amazement whenever we told them that during that time, we would be done with an order of Salisbury steak at Pancake House in less than two minutes. (Wow. Two fast-food chains and a restaurant mentioned in the first five paragraphs.

I just hope they are placing ads here in BusinessMirror.)

Anyway, a few years later, the wife and I completely avoided going to Baguio, as we were very much afraid that our lives c

Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Rosanna Tuason-Fores with Retirement and Healthcare Coalition Executive Director Marc Daubenbeuchel
Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Rosanna Tuason-Fores with Retirement and Healthcare Coalition Executive Director Marc Daubenbeuchel

ould potentially end if ever we did travel up North.

That was such a frustrating thing for us. We regularly travel to the country’s summer capital, as it is one of those special places for us. Baguio was one thing. Riding the Metro Rail Transit was another, as we saw, especially paranoid me, the same threat present.  Again, if you are wondering what caused us, particularly me, to this way, look no further than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which reached the country that time.

But you know what? We are still both alive. I am still alive. I recently had a bout with illness some weeks back, and I believe, now, that it was scarier.

We all have tendencies to scare ourselves beyond reason at times. Mostly, it is the fear of the unknown or an encounter with something new that makes us act illogically. It is the same thing with the Ebola virus that is now being mentioned as a real threat to life as we know it.

The United Nations has even sounded the alarm bell, and is asking for a $1-billion fund to fight it.

But for us here in the Philippines, as Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) President Rosanna Tuason-Fores says, there is really nothing to fear about the virus. Not just yet.

Tuason-Fores told me we would be one of the last countries to be affected, if ever it does. She said the country’s tourism industry would continue to function normally, even with the fear created by the virus and all the news about it that bombards us on a daily basis.

One of the last countries to be affected? It is a given that we have very limited tourist arrivals coming from Africa. It is also a given that we have some overseas Filipino workers in that part of the world.

But, let me check further. The one company that I can trust when it comes to data and information on travel and tourism is global distribution-system provider Amadeus. It is the preferred service provider of all tourism industry players from travel agencies to airlines, even here in the country. According to Amadeus, if someone is traveling from Guinea, where the Ebola virus has spread, the flight onboard Air France will take 27 hours to reach Manila, not counting stopovers in Paris and Hong Kong. Another option is by taking Gulf Air from Paris to Bahrain, and then Manila. Now if someone is coming from Kenya, that person can take Kenya Airways to Bangkok, then Thai Airways, Philippine Airlines, or another airline to Manila.  Another option is riding Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi or Qatar Airways from Doha. From Cape Town, a person can take Cathay Airways, which will pass through Johannesburg and Hong Kong.

With several stopovers along the way, yes, there seems to be only a slim chance of the Ebola virus ever entering the country. And as Tuason-Fores said, there are a lot more pressing concerns within the country’s tourism industry that need to be addressed, including infrastructure, quality standards and the very much looming Asean integration next year.

Still, according to Tuason-Fores, the government is currently doing a good job in preparing for any eventualities.

She said the TCP will follow the lead and directions the government will take. Now as for reaching the 10 million targeted tourism arrivals by 2016, one segment that needs to be addressed are foreign retirees, which Retirement and Healthcare Coalition (RHC) Executive Director Marc Daubenbeuchel has divided into go-go, slow-go and no-go groupings.

Over the past several years, RHC has been pushing for the Philippines to become a prime destination for elder citizens, specifically those coming from Europe, Japan, South Korea and the US. RHC sees the Philippines as perfect for retirees because of its location, weather, hospitality, English-speaking citizens and low cost of living. It has also identified locations in the country that have the right mix of amenities for foreign retirees, assisted hospitals with improved standards, and multiple trainings for health-care personnel.

It is one organization that the government should never overlook. It can contribute a lot to the country’s tourism.

RHC has done so much work for the retirement industry, built a database, and has a road map that is waiting to be executed in full.

For comments, suggestions, and reactions, I can be reached at [email protected]

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