Cooperation — and smiles — are needed to lift the travel industry

Cooperation — and smiles — are needed to lift the travel industry

By Zsarlene B. Chua, Senior Reporter

IT’S no secret that global tourism is one of the industries that has borne the brunt of the current COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, with health and safety protocols and blanket quarantines lassoing in the once growing industry.

The grim reality is that according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) — a global forum of business communities across the globe that works with governments to raise awareness about the importance of travel and tourism — over 142 million travel and tourism jobs have been lost, and the $3.6 trillion in global travel and tourism gross domestic product (GDP) has gone down the drain. And the world stands to lose more if the situation does not improve by the end of the year, said Tiffany Misrahi, vice-president for policy at the WTTC, during the recently held virtual BusinessWorld Economic Forum.

Grim outlook notwithstanding, Ms. Misrahi noted that the current situation allows the industry to “build back stronger and more resilient than before,” by coordinating public and private approaches which include continued government support for the sector and the need to enhance “existing safe and seamless traveller journey experience.”

“We continue to see the Asia Pacific Region and China to have very strong policies that are enabling speedy recovery but ultimately it will require a coordinated approach and the reality is no one country can do it on its own,” she said.

As the world tries to restart and recover from a pandemic, which has sickened more than 62 million people as of this writing, an expert said that the focus should be on encouraging travellers to come back through promotions rather than giving businesses more loans to keep their businesses afloat.

“I would still go for a million [pesos] of business than a million [pesos] of loans because if you fund tourism establishments and they have no customers, the money will be a sum cost, but if you fund tourists, that will not be their last purchase in that establishment,” Alexander Cabrera, chairman and senior partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers Philippines, said in the same forum.

He explained that similar strategies are in place in Taiwan and Japan where tourists pay for vouchers which they can use in tourism establishments as a way to revitalize the industry.

Mr. Cabrera also suggested the use of seaplanes for tourists to around several Philippine islands.

“Seaplanes provide tourists the ability to go around quickly and even cheaply because you can do all these things… these are some things that can be maximized,” he said, before adding that the Philippines’ more than 7,000 islands is a main differentiator of the country, as having more islands to tour (preferably using seaplanes) can make tourists stay longer in the country.

“The real way to promote the Philippines is to emphasize our natural assets, and there’s so many of them outside the well-known destinations and that can certainly increase the number of days they stay in the Philippines,” Mr. Cabrera said.

Current demand for travel is going towards “nature destinations” and “off-the-beaten paths,” according to Ms. Misrahi, something the country may stand a chance to capitalize on.

On air travel, AirAsia Philippines CEO Ricardo “Ricky” Isla said that “pricing is going to support air travel as far as opening more destinations in the domestic front.”

This is why AirAsia recently held several promotions, including a Manila to Cebu flight for P1,800 to P2,000 and a P4,999 Fly-All-You-Can pass for a year for domestic travel.

Mr. Isla is also confident that the holidays, especially in December, will “triple passenger capacity.”

“December is peak season and we know we need to open more price-driven promotions… Hopefully we’ll be able to sustain this momentum of the Christmas holidays to January next year,” he added.

Traveller confidence is also important as according to Ms. Misrahi, travellers “want to see a consistent and coherent approach in how issues are tackled and addressed,” a point Mr. Cabrera agreed with, as a point of concern with promoting the Philippines as a destination is the question of do travellers “feel safe going to the country and are there sufficient medical facilities to take care of them if they get sick?”

Whether the industry recovers next year is still up in the air but Mr. Cabrera said that there’s a need for Filipinos to keep smiling and not lose their spirit despite the pandemic because “the Filipino smile is actually a tourist attraction.”

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