Philippine trade turns to domestic travel, star power to tide through coronavirus crisis

As they grapple with the fallout from coronavirus, travel agencies in the Philippines are resorting to promoting safe and responsible travel, dangling steep discounts and adding value to the travel experience, turning to longhaul and domestic travel, and tapping celebrities’ star power.

Beset by doubts, the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) a few days ago mulled cancelling its 27th Travel Tour Expo (TTE) 2020, the country’s biggest consumer travel fair, which begins today (Friday).

Philippine travel players eye longhaul and domestic travellers to make up for shortfall in regional tourist arrivals due to coronavirus

On its decision to push through with the three-day event, PTAA president Ritchie Tuano explained: “As an association, we have to take the lead in reducing travel scare and promote safe travel and precautionary measures recommended by the World Health Organization and the Department of Health.”

Tuano said they were also overwhelmed by the success of TTE 2020’s two-day B2B component held from February 2-4, whereby other than cancellations from China, all sellers from 25 countries met with 300 buyers across the Philippines.

Precautionary measures being implemented at TTE 2020 include a medical team with ambulance on standby, hand sanitisers and alcohol dispensers, distribution of leaflets on how to avoid infection/contamination, and mandatory body temperature checks on all access points.

Apart from dangling travel deals having the lowest prices in the 27-year history of TTE, PTAA also chose the 10 most travelled Filipino celebrities, based on their social media postings.

“(Celebrities) do a lot to boost the visits to different locations. Their fans aspire to go where they go. They provide both the glamour factor and the reassurance that the place is safe to visit,” Tuano explained.

Travel agents said the coronavirus scare has a greater impact on travel than SARS and H1N1 due to social media influence, plus the fact that China is the second biggest inbound market for the Philippines while Hong Kong is one of the top outbound destinations for Filipinos.

Golden Sky Travel and Tours president, Dolly Santos, said the outbound challenge is for travel to South-east Asian destinations, where the bulk of trip postponements and cancellations are, as tourists do not require a visa to travel there, except to Japan and South Korea.

But Santos pointed out that it’s not that easy to cancel longhaul trips because the visas issued are restricted to the travel dates and air tickets are difficult to rebook for groups.

Echoing the strategies of multiple agencies, Rowena Baltazar, managing director of newly-formed A-List Travel Solutions, said that they are targeting the domestic travellers by promoting various destinations on social media.

The country’s cache of over 100 million domestic tourists has proven effective in helping the Philippine travel trade sail through tough times in the past, by sheer volume alone compared to just eight million foreign inbound tourists.

Baltazar added that visa assistance and processing is a good source of income for them.

Meanwhile, Tuano said they are also diverting their marketing and promotions to other destinations without travel restrictions like Japan and South Korea and for inbound, to source markets like India and the Middle East.

Golden Eagle Travel and Tours president, Michelle Victoria, noted that industry players were adopting cost-saving measures to tide through these tough times, for instance, TTE exhibitors were resorting to car pooling and opting for non-hotel options.

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