Philippine’s tourism revival hits roadblock amid renewed restrictions

Domestic tourism in the Philippines is expected to fare worse this year compared to 2020, as metro Manila and four surrounding provinces are placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) – the highest of the four levels of lockdown – starting today (March 29), after just a week of implementing stricter quarantine measures.

While only metro Manila, and the provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan – collectively dubbed as the NCR Plus – are under ECQ, tourism nationwide has been affected as the Department of Tourism has banned hotel staycations countrywide except for destinations under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) – the lowest level of quarantine. Additionally, airlines have already cancelled a number of domestic flights.

Tightened quarantine curbs amid rising Covid infections in the Philippines has brought the country back to square one; tourists along Real Street in Intramuros, Manila, the Philippines in January 2021 pictured

The NCR Plus areas will be under ECQ until April 4, subject to weekly reviews; with strictures including 18.00 to 05.00 am curfew, limited public transport, skeleton staff for most industries and offices, and no public gathering of any kind.

“You can write off Philippine tourism this year, which is going to be worse off than last year,” hospitality consultant Jerome de la Fuente told TTG Asia.

“It will not be revived because daily Covid-19 infections are shooting up to nearly 10,000, triggering this latest round of lockdown, and so the people’s confidence to travel isn’t there anymore,” he added.

“Health and safety protocols are in place, yet the infections are increasing. Unless the government rushes vaccination, the people’s confidence (to travel) will not return. But there’s not even enough vaccines yet for health and medical frontliners.”

Being under ECQ brings the country back to square one, back to a year ago at the onset of the pandemic.

For hoteliers like Margie Munsayac, vice president sales and marketing of Bluewater Resorts, “changing policies on quarantine and lockdowns will always be a big challenge to our industry”. Munsayac is part of a group of tourism players from the private and public sectors who have sought to revive tourism with ongoing marketing and promotions of Cebu and Bohol in the Visayas, including hefty discounts.

“Stability of policies would always be a big factor for marketing traction. And once again, the tourism sector catering to the leisure market will be on a standstill for NCR Plus”, said Munsayac, adding that “other destinations outside NCR Plus will likewise be affected”. “It would be a blessing if travellers would rebook, but a good percentage will really be cancelled trips,” she said.

“But we do understand the need for the stricter quarantine guidelines, which us tourism stakeholders fully support. We are just hopeful that when (travel restrictions lift), Filipinos will be more vigilant in the basic health protocols and will feel once again confident and safe to travel and support tourism,” said Munsayac.

De la Fuente suggested starting a Save Philippine Tourism campaign as a way to revive the country’s economy. He lamented that the industry is “on our own”, expressing disappointment in the government’s “apathetic attitude”, unlike other countries like Singapore and Thailand whose governments understand the value and contribution of tourism to their economies, and have supported the industry with initiatives such as substantial bailout packages during the pandemic.

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