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Tourism industry needs reboot, say

Tourism industry stakeholders have been looking for ways to reboot it considering its impact to the economy as the threat brought about by the pandemic has continued to linger on.

What has floored the industry was that all its contributing segments – airlines, accommodation, services – have suffered a grave beating, said Arturo M. Milan, regional governor for Mindanao of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“The industry is reeling from the impact of the pandemic, to say the least. Industry stakeholders do not know what to do now; no one was prepared for the pandemic,” Milan told TIMES.

The impact to the industry was really huge because, he explained, the city was mainly reliant on the market created by the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE).

Because it has matured as a MICE destination, last year the city won in bidding to host the Philippine MICE Conference, an event which would have gathered key stakeholders of the industry, including those coming from foreign countries.

“Obviously, we have lost a huge opportunity to promote the city as a destination,” Mr. Milan said, pointing out that because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, the event is deemed cancelled.

Although there has yet been no official report as to industry losses, if the figures last year were to be the basis, the City Tourism Operations Office reported that during the first 11 months of last year, arrivals went up to 2.34 million, or 7.3% higher than the same period the previous year.

The 11-month receipts last year added about P51 billion to the economy of the city, the report added.

In explaining the report, Regina Rosa D. Tecson, chief of the office, said that the bulk of the income was from the MICE, although the impact of the series of the earthquakes that hit part of Mindanao was not still being factored into the total receipts generated during the year.

Tecson, in a conversation with TIMES last year, said that last year, the target was for the city to increase its arrival by at least 10%.

On a regional level, the regional office of the Tourism department reported that during the first half of the year, the number of tourist arrivals was at 2.2 million with spending of P27.3 billion, or 26/38% higher than the same period the previous year.

The target last year was 4.3 million tourists for the region.

In explaining the increase, Tourism regional director Tanya Rabat-Tan attributed this to the increasing number of new flights, including the direct international flights.

Another key industry that is directly linked to tourism is the services sector and that based on the latest report of the Philippine Statistics Authority, the sector reported about P407.234 billion for the region in 2018, about half of the total gross domestic regional product that year of about P816.873 billion.

Milan, whose advocacies during his tenure as president of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry was tourism, said that when the pandemic hit the country, the impact on the tourism industry, at least in this part of the country, was immediate. “Accommodations were cancelled so naturally hotels and restaurants ended up empty handed,” he said.

Among those that were greatly affected by the situation was Marco Polo Hotel which, early this month announced that its operations would stop indefinitely starting June 15.

Francis R. Ledesma, president of Halifax Davao Inc., owner of the hotel, told this writer that the hotel lost a “sizeable amount that the management decided that it should stop the bleeding and take care of our workers” by providing packages to those who are of retirable ages and separation packages for those qualified.

The closure of the hotel resulted in the displacement of about 270 workers as the services sector in a regional setting had about 17,400 in 2018, up from 16,400 the previous year.

Many of the other hotels have either stopped operations, or have downsized operations as many of them were able to negotiate with business process outsourcing companies that had to find accommodation for their employees during the implementation of quarantine protocols.

Other hotels have been operating their restaurants for takeouts, among them the newly-opened Acacia Hotel Davao which has been operating its Luk Foo Chinese restaurant for takeout orders since March 15.

Admitting the uncertainty that the industry is facing is overwhelming, Milan said there is a need for stakeholders to rethink their approach. “Although recovery is something that we do not know, this early the industry must come up with plans that are doable even as early as next year,” he said.

One key aspect of the plan, he added, is to consider domestic tourism as well as agri-tourism “because we know that foreign tourism will really take sometime.“

On agri-tourism, Milan said this is a tourism segment that is doable because “physical distancing can be had and we can also promote one backbone of our economy to the local: agriculture.”

He cited that there have been farms that are ready to accept tourists, like the one in Malagos which features chocolate processing as well as the Agriya in Panabo City, Davao del Norte.

While Malagos Garden Resort has been recognized internationally due its cacao products including chocolate, Agriya, a mixed-use project of the Floirendo group, features banana farming and vegetable gardening.

“We can only hope for the best,” Milan said.

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