Filipinos love to travel and even as the pandemic rages, people are still looking to book their dream vacations. Numbers back that claim: A May survey ran by the Department of Tourism showed that 60% of 13,000 participants would still choose to travel even without a working vaccine.
The Philippine tourism industry has eased restrictions over the past few months in an attempt to restart hotels, resorts and airlines, but with mass vaccinations and herd immunity months away, what will travel and tourism be like in 2021?
Domestic travel is the way to go
"International travel will most likely be restricted to zones between countries that have little to no cases of infection," Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat told reporters.
With no foreign visitors dropping by, local tourist destinations are being pushed to welcome more domestic travellers.
The Philippines' largest airline Cebu Pacific was the first to fly locally in June when quarantine restrictions eased. According to Candice Iyog, the company's vice president for marketing & customer experience, Caticlan, Siargao, Cebu, Busuanga, Boracay, and Coron were the go-to destinations for Filipinos.
What's it like now?
As with all things in your life right now, flights and check-ins are dictated by health protocols. The airline has a three-pillar approach to pandemic flights: sanitation and safety, track and trace, and testing options.
The face mask and face shield combo is here to stay, along with adherence to social distancing measures. Disinfections are also mandatory and will remain to be.
Government-sanctioned Traze, a contact tracing app, is required for all passengers to ensure proper monitoring.
As for testing, Cebu Pacific is running a pilot of antigen tests for its passengers from Dec. 3 to 14. Iyog said the airline would shoulder the cost of this pilot test.
The airline is also offering an RT-PCR package exclusive to Cebu Pacific customers flying out of Manila: P3,300 for one test, which can be booked in advance. Results are released after 24 hours, Iyog said.
The great outdoors awaits
Tourism Usec. Benito Bengzon said an interest for outdoor activities and beaching grew over the pandemic. The agency also partnered with local groups to push for motorbiking tourism.
"There will be a greater preference for outdoor kinds of experience, the low density but high value kind of experience," he said.
Sun, sand, and sea destinations such as Siargao and Boracay remained popular. Heading up north to Baguio to stay cool was also a top choice for tourists, he added.
MORE ON LOCAL DESTINATIONS:
Testing is a challenge
Restrictions vary per destination. Some may require certain documents, others may not, but one thing remains consistent: the need to present a negative RT-PCR test.
"We are the only country in the world that requires some form of testing for domestic traffic," GMR Megawide Cebu Airport's Chief Executive Adviser Andrew Harrison said.
However, the gold standard swab test takes a while to process and can be pricey for some.
"We've done a lot of work in collaboration with Cebu Pacific and the Department of Health to see whether we can switch to an environment of antigen testing, which gives better results and it's more affordable," Harrison said.
MORE ON ANTIGEN TESTING:
If all goes well, Harrison said the goal was to hopefully do away with antigen testing for local travels. Authorities, officials, and passengers will have to cooperate to overcome the challenge, he added.
"It is very important to maintain the health and safety of the public environment, but at the same time, we need to balance that against the economic resurgence for the entire nation," he said.
The future is digital
"We've seen a lot of our customers easily move to self-service, whether it is for the rebooking of their flights, for the checking in online, or choosing to store their credit in a travel fund," Iyog shared.
Contactless and digital transactions saw a boom as it minimizes contact.
Things will be different
"Nobody's going to rely on what they used to do before to attract tourists," Harrison said, preempting a more competitive landscape for international travel.
Local travel needs to be more efficient and have an ease of connectivity—from your airport all the way to your hotel room.
When asked how to accelerate tourism and travel recovery, Iyog said "having a simplified and standardized set of requirements" will move things faster.
Passengers have to think about numerous requirements even if all the destinations are domestic. Bengzon said agencies and institutions must work hand in hand to restore the traveller's confidence.
"If we can make it easier by making it simpler for them so that they can start moving around, I think that would be the first thing," Iyog concluded.