Interview: Aileen Clemente

In what ways has the government supported travel and tourism operators during the pandemic?

AILEEN CLEMENTE: The Department of Tourism (DOT) provided adequate guidance to travel and tour operators on the day-to-day situation, and on government programmes that could assist tourists and tourism enterprises affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time the DOT engaged the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, which is the private sector body for tourism, in preparation for the Tourism Response and Recovery Programme (TRRP). The private sector provided substantial inputs to the government on the appropriate programmes and actions to protect tourists and workers, ensure business survival, build a more resilient tourism industry and restore confidence.

To what extent can domestic tourism alleviate the strain on the sector in late 2020 and early 2021?

CLEMENTE: The priority action for the TRRP in the short term is to stimulate domestic tourism for 2020 and 2021 to enable the industry to begin a gradual recovery. The focus on domestic tourism was stressed by President Rodrigo Duterte when he encouraged locals to travel to safe tourist destinations as community quarantine is eased and local governments are able to install the necessary guidelines and protocols for the opening of tourist attractions. As it is, domestic tourism is the backbone of Philippine tourism, accounting for 80% of the industry’s total revenue. The focus market for domestic tourism will be families and young professionals, as this demographic seeks to manage the psychological effects of Covid-19.

What are your expectations for a recovery in international tourism in 2021?

CLEMENTE: There will be a gradual recovery in international tourism in 2021 as foreign tourists continue to source more information about health and safety measures in tourism destinations. The opening of borders, relaxation of visas and availability of flights will also have to be considered in the gradual reopening of international tourism. Similar to past crises, short-haul markets will be able to recover quickly. These include Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as South-east Asia. These source markets account for 40% of total international arrivals to the country.

How can tourism stakeholders leverage digital solutions during the current enforced slowdown?

CLEMENTE: Travel and tourism businesses in the Philippines have shifted to a more active use of digital technology for contactless transactions and negotiations. The use of social media was maximised to disseminate information and reach out to domestic and international tourists whose trips were affected by the closure of airports, flight cancellations and deferral of travel. Moving forwards, the TRRP also stresses the need for more tourism businesses to utilise digital technology for marketing and for business survival.

Which permanent changes to the tourism sector are likely to result from the Covid-19 pandemic?

CLEMENTE: Two key changes following the pandemic are likely to transform the tourism industry. The first is the shift to digital technology. The second is the need for infrastructure – such as clean water, waste treatment and digital services – to enable businesses to connect to the market. In this regard, Rajah Travel’s Tourism Knowledge Centre (TKC) has developed a digital tool to assist tourist site managers and operators in planning trips, managing visitor flows and promoting contactless business. The centre also engaged the private sector and academia in the discussion of issues affecting the industry as part of its Travel Talk series. More recently, the TKC developed an online internship programme in order to promote research skills and help students to understand the value of data, as well as how to use it for effective planning and marketing.