Travelling in the New Normal
EARLY 2020 THEN FAST FORWARD TO TODAY. The pandemic has plagued the Philippines for more than a year already. Ever since then, it has left a trail of death, fear, uncertainty, and worse, corruption wherever its tremors rippled, forcing people to stay home as much as they could. Many feel like the time stopped ticking, lives ceased to exist, and memories skipped while we stayed here trapped in draconian community lockdowns and travel restrictions. Travel and tourism, along with many others, have been globally restructured by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel Innovation through Technology
As we adapt to the changing environment still brought by the pandemic, we have also transitioned various outdoor activities in the safety of our homes.
From studying to working to bonding with our loved ones, we tried to keep the connection without compromising health protocols. But, everything has its breaking point. While the blurring of the lines between the hustle and bustle of our daily activities and our personal lives continues, many yearn for the relaxation and release that travelling provides.
Despite gradually reopening the borders for travellers, many are still unable to venture out. This has pushed tourism industries to come up with innovative ways on how to promote tourists attractions online. Late last year, the Department of Tourism (DOT) launched a campaign allowing users to explore select locations in the National Capital Region through virtual tours.
The initial launch showcased two virtual tours, which included the Old Manila and the Modern Manila. The campaign featured 360-degree videos of notable landmarks in Metro Manila with interactive locations. Other institutions like the Ayala Museum followed suit.
This time it was an interactive 8-bit virtual tour of the country entitled, Where is the Filipino? It ran for free in May 2021 as part of the celebration of International Museum Day. It highlighted places around the country marked by various items found in Ayala Museum’s collections (Santos, 2021).
Deviating from the fun and entertainment side of travel and technology, the Department of Tourism is currently promoting the WTTC Safe Travels Stamp application. The WTTC Safe Travels Stamp is the world’s first safety and hygiene stamp for travellers to recognize governments and businesses that have adopted global health standard protocols.
The application is open to all DOT-accredited establishments and tourism destinations that are open to local tourists. As of April 2021, a total of 40 establishments has been awarded the said stamp from WTTC in the country (Adel, 2021).
Locally, across cities and regions, local government units (LGUs) have also adopted the use of mobile applications for contact tracing. In April 2020, the National Task Force on COVID-19 signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Multisys Technologies Corporation adopting StaySafe.PH app as the country’s official contact tracing, health condition reporting, and social distancing system (DILG to LGUs, 2021).
DILG has called upon the local government units to patronize the use of the StaySafe.PH app for digital contract tracing. However just this August, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III criticized how ineffective the app is in mitigating the spread of the virus (DILG official defends, 2021). Unfortunately, the lack of standardization and centralization of data has made the initiative’s efficiency unreliable.
Despite the slow adoption of the digitalization of tourism in the country, harnessing the power of technology should be an integral part of the strategy for the country as it recovers from the pandemic. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has been accelerating the tourism sector everywhere in the globe. It helps consumers discover, explore, and purchase tourism products and services. On the other hand, it has played a critical role in boosting the quality and competitiveness of the tourism industry by providing tools for its growth.
Tourism and the Philippine Economy
Many were scared that the Philippines was on its way to reclaiming its old name as the “Asia’s Sick Man” as our economy continues to be slowed down by the pandemic. According to Dean and Professor at the Ateneo School of Government, Ronald Mendoza (2021), the country was among the fastest-growing economies in the world in 2019.
However, COVID-19 wreaked havoc the following year, crippling the country’s economy as the government implemented one of the longest lockdowns in the world. Consequently, we would have to work extra hard to counter the impacts of the prolonged lockdown and restricted mobility of people on which our tourism industry is highly dependent.
According to the latest report published by the World Travel and Tourism Council, our country’s tourism industry’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by $37 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 (Santos, 2021).
Travel came to a virtual standstill as borders closed down and flights got canceled due to stricter restrictions during the peak of the pandemic. International flights to Manila saw a 75% decline from 2019 to 2020, making up million-dollar losses across local airlines (Masigan, 2021). In the same years, the tourism sect also saw a significant decline in employment figures.
Approximately 4.68 million were working in the tourism industry in 2020, down from 5.72 million in the previous year (Statista, 2021). Without a doubt, the tourism industry is among the sectors that have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. And for a country whose economic growth is heavily influenced by tourism, the Philippines will likely feel the negative impacts of the crisis for much longer than other economies.
Travel Forever Transformed
Beyond travel restrictions and policies, fear has always shaped how travellers approach journeys. In this era, younger travellers may not feel too threatened by the infection however, the fear of bringing home the disease and infecting their loved ones is enough to change their minds about travelling. However, the changes that the pandemic has brought to the tourism industry will probably be here to stay.
Travel will never be the same but that does not mean that nothing in the past will return. It is just that Physics does not work that way. We do not go back in time. We just keep on moving forward. At the end of the day, this period will be defined by the time before Covid-19 and the “next normal” born from it.