Tourism to Support Recovery
Finding the pivotal balance between containing the spread of Covid-19 and allowing more sectors such as travel and tourism to reopen is the key to recovery after the 9.5-percent gross domestic product slump in 2020.
The closure of Makati Shangri-La Hotel, one of the largest hotels in the Makati central business district, and the massive lay-offs implemented by two major airlines speak volumes about the suffering of the tourism sector. Millions have lost their jobs as thousands of business establishments either closed or operated at reduced capacity, as the government restricted the movement of the people in its bid to contain the Covid-19 transmission.
While the tourism sector is generally considered a leisure activity, it actually represents the dynamism of an economy. Business travelers who explore investment opportunities usually stay in five-star hotels, while industry associations hold conferences and exhibits at hotel ballrooms or convention centers. Leisure travelers are also consumers who buy local goods and spend for services in communities, thereby creating more opportunities in the provinces. Bohol, for example, became a first-class province with the help of tourism.
I just hope that more Covid-19 vaccines will arrive soon in the country so that we can gradually allow tourism establishments to welcome more visitors—leisure travelers and investors alike.
The good news is that more choices of vaccines will be made available soon. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the one-dose vaccine of pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson’s was effective and safe in trials. The J&J vaccine, which can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures for at least three months, provides strong protection against severe disease and death from Covid-19 and may reduce the spread of the virus. It showed an 86-percent efficacy against severe forms of Covid-19 in the US and 82 percent against severe disease in South Africa, where new variants of the virus emerged.
This will be a great addition to the portfolio of effective vaccines available to us, including those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca/Oxford, Moderna, Novavax, Sinopharm, Sinovac Biotech and Gamaleya Institute.
No less than President Duterte expressed the urgency to make these vaccines available to us so that we can have the confidence to ease the quarantine restrictions in the coming months.
An effective vaccination program, coupled with the already established health protocols, will help tourism destinations recover from the crisis. Boracay, for example, reported zero virus transmission among guests over the past two months, despite accepting 15,000 domestic tourists in December 2020 and 12,000 visitors in January 2021.
The travel sector, meanwhile, expects 2021 to be a much tougher year than previously thought as many countries have yet to re-open their borders. The International Air Transport Association recommends the use of a travel pass as one way of mitigating the risk of importing the virus.
Such travel passes will help passengers manage their visits in line with government requirements for Covid-19 tests, or vaccines.
Data from the IATA showed that global passenger demand in terms of revenue passenger kilometers, or RPKs, declined 65.9 percent in 2020, the sharpest traffic drop-in aviation history. International passenger demand fell 75.6 percent, while domestic demand decreased 48.8 percent compared to 2019.
In the Asia-Pacific regions, airline passenger traffic plunged 80.3 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.
I just hope that with the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines, the travel and tourism sector will shift from survival mode to recovery and expansion. It appears that the key to this goal is the application of health credentials, such as vaccination and testing, and using digital technologies in sharing health data with authorities.
The Department of Tourism already expressed a willingness to streamline travel procedures and requirements imposed by local government units, so that travel will be more convenient and safer. I agree with Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, who believes the simplification of entry requirements will make traveling in the new normal more convenient while protecting the public’s safety and well-being.
Among the many and current travel requirements are medical certificates, travel passes, swab tests, age limits, and quarantine. With the vaccination program in place, proof of inoculation may be enough credential for a traveler. This is why it is important that we implement the vaccination program properly as soon as possible.
Evidence from Israel, which is nearing a 50-percent inoculation rate among its 9 million people, showed that the risk of illness from Covid-19 dropped 95.8 percent among those who received both shots of Pfizer vaccine. As a result, Israel reopened most of its economy, becoming the first country in the world to revive itself with the help of vaccines.
While the Philippines is a much bigger country than Israel, I am confident that with the government’s coordinated approach with the private sector, we can also achieve herd immunity with the help of vaccines in the coming months, and eventually fully reopen the travel and tourism sector and the rest of the economy.