DOT’s Puyat looks forward to PH tourism recovery, optimistic that ‘revenge travel’ will happen 

Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat AJPress photo by Momar G. Visaya

THE Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) led by Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat is encouraging Filipinos in the diaspora to travel and explore the Philippines again, after a long hiatus due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Puyat said that they are looking forward to welcoming balikbayans and tourists back especially now that COVID-19 travel restrictions are slowly being eased.

“I know that most of you have made it an annual tradition to celebrate the December holidays in the Philippines, where the Christmas spirit begins to be felt on the first ber month with December just around the corner,” Puyat said in a speech she delivered at a recent virtual Kapihan sponsored by the Filipino American Press Club of New York, Department of Tourism New York and Orientours.

“We are optimistic that revenge travel will soon materialize. We recognize the need to move forward and go along with the tide in order for us to transition into the new normal,” Puyat shared. “You know how we Filipinos are it will take more than a pandemic to keep us down and stop us from getting back up. And travel and tourism will be a fun way to help reboot the Philippine economy.

Puyat also discussed the high vaccination rates of tourism workers in key travel destinations, including Baguio and Boracay which have recorded 100 and 99 percent vaccination rates respectively. Over 90 percent of tourism workers in Bohol and Coron are vaccinated.

She emphasized that the swift immunization of the tourism workforce is essential in the recovery of the industry, citing the experience of Thailand when it used Phuket as an experiment.

Called the Phuket Sandbox, it was Thailand’s pilot run for reopening the tourism sector and was launched on July 1. Tourists who wanted to go to Phuket were required 14 days of quarantine on the island. The country reopened Bangkok and other leading tourist destinations such as Pattaya and Chiang Mai to fully-vaccinated foreign tourists from 46 designated “low-risk” countries.

“That was my inspiration. I have a better chance if I start with our destinations. I’m so happy that there’s no vaccination hesitancy among our workers,” she said. “In fact in some areas, we’re already vaccinating friends and families of our tourism frontliners.”

In Boracay, the vaccination rate has reached more than 100 percent, which means that more workers are being hired back.

The tourism industry employed 5.7 million Filipinos in 2019 and last year, more than 1.1 million lost their jobs.

Puyat mentioned that the Philippines has one of the shortest quarantine requirements in Asia.

Travelers from the USA and Canada are only required to undergo facility-based quarantine with RT PCR testing on the fifth day. Upon the release of a negative RT PCR test result, travelers may continue home quarantine until the 10th day.

Upon entry into the Philippines, vaccinated travelers from the USA can conveniently present their CDC vaccination card or their digital ID or certificate as proof of vaccination.

“Again, may I stress this is as of today because protocols are forever changing. We in the Philippines continue to prioritize the health and safety of our people, including that of our overseas Filipinos and former Filipinos who are returning to the country,” she said.

She reported that balikbayans and their foreign spouses and children may already enter the country, along with foreign spouses and minor children of Filipino staying in the Philippines are also allowed to enter the country subject to prevailing guidelines implemented by the IATF.

Since May this year, Puyat said that the DOT has been pushing for the relaxation of testing and quarantine protocols for fully-vaccinated individuals from countries that are classified as low-risk following the lead of some of the country’s neighbors in the ASEAN as well as the models that are being implemented in Western countries.

“As early as last year, December, the Philippines was already open to balikbayans and I have to give credit to Mr. Jojo Clemente and Miss Marge Munsayac because they were always pushing for that,” Puyat said.

Clemente is the p[resident of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines while Munsayac is chair of the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association Inc.

Tourism Recovery

“We are now moving from survival to recovery and rebuilding after two years of actual struggle for survival. The revival of tourism is a big part of this and that is why we are looking forward to welcoming back our balikbayans, Filipino Americans, Filipino Canadians, and even foreign tourists from all over the world,” said Josen Perez de Tagle, Philippine Airlines’ Vice President of Corporate Communications.

He said that they are looking forward to having more flights into the country as they rebuild route by route.

Puyat also announced that the first-ever Philippine Specialist Program will be launched this month to educate North American travel advisors about the Philippines.

“What was perceived as a challenge has actually become an opportunity to reach a wider audience through digital marketing activities through webinars, the online promotion of culinary tourism, virtual cookbooks, social media marketing, and supporting virtual Filipino community events,” she said.

The tourism attaches assigned in the United States – Francisco Lardizabal in New York, Soleil Tropicales in San Francisco, and Richmond Jimenez in Los Angeles – continue to engage with airline partners or operators, travel advisors, and consumers to strengthen business relationships and keep the Philippines as a top of mind destination.

There has also been a shift towards more open spaces, outdoor activities, and more personalized and immersive travel.

“We are focusing on products that will cater to the new normal travelers’ preferences,” she shared.

Among these are 41 tourism circuits spanning the entire country – from food trips to eco-tours, fun farm circuits to pilgrimage tours, biking circuits, art and adventure, and dive and drive packages.

Addressing the Kapihan audience, Puyat said she hopes the kababayans consider returning home.

“Hopefully we really have more good news in the next couple of weeks. We can’t wait to see more of you, we really miss our balikbayans,” she said. n

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at [email protected].

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