The Tourism Department was very bullish about growth prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It had good reason to be: In 2019, the country achieved an all-time high of 8.2 million international tourist arrivals, contributing $9.31 billion or P482.15 billion in visitor receipts. This posted a rate of 20.81 percent higher than the 2018 figure of $7.71 billion.
In a statement released on March 2, Department of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that a foreign guest incurred $128.35 average daily expenditure while the average per capita expenditure for a whole trip was pegged at about $1,218.04 on an average length of stay of 9.49 nights. This was according to the data gathered by the DOT Office of Tourism Development Planning, Research and Information Management (OTDPRIM).
According to their data, the country’s consistent top visitor market South Korea posted the highest tourist spending of about $2.614 billion, followed by China with $2.3 billion and the United States at $1.2 billion.
There were plans to promote the country further, with a festival that was supposed to be held this March with the aim of selling the Philippines as a shopper’s paradise with nationwide mall sales that offered big discounts. The last major event staged by the department was the Hot Air Balloon Flying Carnival in Calabarzon on March 6.
With the Covid-19 situation raising red flags on international travel, Puyat first appealed to Filipinos to support the tourism and hospitality industry through domestic tourism, and many stakeholders started rolling out attractive packages for flights, tours, and staycations.
Grounded, For Now
However, as it became apparent that the viral situation cannot be contained, it was decided by the Executive branch to place Metro Manila on a lockdown, cutting off transportation, closing down establishments, shutting down non-essential services, and keeping citizens at home.
Flights have been grounded, too, with Cebu Pacific Cebu corporate communications director Charo Logarta Lagamon revealing that even before the Metro Manila lockdown, flights had been cancelled to places like mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and more recently South Korea, amounting to 270 flights a week. Last week, Philippine Airlines spokesperson Cielo Villaluna reported that they already cancelled 28 roundtrip flights to/from Doha, 75 roundtrip flights to/from South Korea (Incheon and Busan), and 69 roundtrip flights to/from Mainland China and Special Administrative Regions HKG and Macau. Dino Reyes-Chua of Skyjet Airlines reveals that their total of eight flights per day at 30 days gives a total of 240 flights for the period of March 15 to April 14.
Because of the enhanced quarantine, hotels have been shut down, too. Guests have been advised to check out with Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles seemingly caught off-guard by a question on what to do next, announcing at the March 16 PCOO press conference that “those in the hotels can go back to their respective provinces.”
Hoteliers admit that they are taking a big hit, with DOT figures citing 50,000 jobs affected as the tourism sector employs roughly 5.4 million of the labor force. For now, rooms are emptying and booked events are cancelled, but they are hopeful that the situation resolves soon.
Of all the big hotel properties, it is perhaps Taal Vista in Tagaytay that has gone through the most challenges, as it was hit by the double whammy of not only the enhanced community quarantine closures but also the Taal Volcano eruption in January. Marketing communications manager Michael Anthony Sagaran says, “Last January, we were bullish with our strong bookings for the first months; after the Taal Volcano eruption and now COVID-19, it’s now the opposite. For the COVID-19 dilemma, as mandated by the government, we are on temporary closure that’s why to keep the Tagaytay and Taal Vista Hotel spirits high, our social media showcases uplifting and inspiring contents.”
City of Dreams Manila is temporarily suspending the operations of its three luxury hotels: Nuwa, Nobu and Hyatt Regency and all restaurants on property effective March 18, when remaining guests will have checked out, says public relations director Romina Gervacio. The luxury resort announced the temporary closure of all its casino operations in full compliance of PAGCOR’s order to suspend all gaming operations during the community quarantine. On the same date, The Garage VR Zone and food park, DreamPlay and signature restaurants Nobu Manila and Crystal Dragon were temporarily closed up until the situation normalizes.
City of Dreams Manila chief operating officer Kevin Benning also shares a reassuring message, “The Philippines is one of most resilient and vibrant tourist destinations in the world. In the same way that we fully support the government in the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, we will be one with DOT, PAGCOR, the city government and other agencies when we bounce back together from this temporary crisis, and definitely, we will contribute in the collective efforts to revive promoting the country as a world-class leisure destination.”
In the East, Luljetta Garden Suites, which is a weekend water destination for many, has already stopped operations and cancelled events. “We had four events cancelled for this month with one ready for 150 pax,” says Jeffrey Flores, who handles the property’s PR and events.
Cebu is starting to reel from the effects of the situation, too, with flights now just trickling in at the international airport and flights from locations such as Incheon, Busan and Hong Kong as the most affected. A new order from the office of Lapu-Lapu Mayor Junard Chan also mandates that all accommodation properties will serve as a 14-day quarantine area for foreign visitors from the Mactan International Airport.
In Mactan, hotels such as Jpark Island Resorts & Waterpark are still open, says PR head Alex Aquino and they are mitigating risks by making sure they have stringent measures and enhanced hygiene procedures. “The flights that can still come into Cebu are from South Korea and Singapore. We still have local guests, too. Our intent is to keep our guests and team members safe and healthy.”
With the world still in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it is unsure when things will begin to normalize. What’s for sure, however, is that as soon as the situation improves, Filipino hoteliers will be there to prove the warm hospitality and excellent service they are renowned for.