The COVID-19 pandemic brought worldwide loss of lives since the outbreak began in January. Billions of revenues were lost as the disease hits hard business sectors that heavily rely on foot-traffic. The pandemic also halted government services for a certain period of time.

One industry that felt the biggest blow of the coronavirus crisis is the global travel and tourism. The World Travel and Tourism Council, the trade group representing major global travel companies, projects a global loss of 75 million jobs and $2.1 trillion in revenue.

Airlines around the world suffered bigtime. Some carriers were left with no choice but to suspend their operations or lay-off ground employees and cabin crews to save the company from huge financial losses.

Just recently, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned that Saudi Arabian Airlines would lose billions of dollars as a result of the slump in air travel, Arabi21 reported.

According to the Arabic language news website, 250,000 jobs in Saudi Arabian Airlines are expected to be lost due to measures being taken by the royal family.

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COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines

The first case of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV, now COVID-19) in the Philippines was confirmed on 30 January 2020, in a 38-year old woman who arrived from Wuhan. Two days later, February 1, the Philippines recorded the first death outside China.

The government declared a health emergency on 9 March, following a spike in new confirmed cases and local transmission.

Tourist attractions and destinations like beaches, historical sites, museums, and popular landmarks had to closed and comply with the social and physical distancing protocols. Some local tour guide businesses had to stop operating because there are no tourists to accommodate.

The government is taking serious and several steps to control the spread of the virus, including travel restrictions.

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The future of travel

I was able to watch ANC’s The Boss feature on travel and tourism amid the global pandemic. I’m including here some of the excerpts from The Boss’ video conference interview and discussion with regards to the impact and future of worldwide travel and tourism.

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Hotel accommodations and booking

There’s no doubt the city and provincial hotels felt the gravity of this pandemic. Room bookings were either suspended or 50/50 operational dedicated to returning overseas workers who had to stay in 14-day quarantine voluntarily offered by management, or in compliance with the government’s order to give temporary shelter for COVID-19 frontliners.

Christine Ibarreta, President, Hotel Sales & Markrting Association, shared on The Boss that, fortunately, hotels in Metro Manila and NCR are still enjoying high occupancy because of the returning seafares and OFWs who are required by the Department of Health to undergo quarantine as soon as they landed in the airport and before they were allowed to go home to their families. “It’s totally a different case with our provincial hotels, like in Boracay wherein occupancy is very low or nothing at all,” said Christine.

This is the current situation of the hotel and hospitality sector that travel and tourism industry is facing right now. And for those who love waking up to hotel breakfast buffet, that might also have to take a break and may just be a thing of the past.

“I think it’s a long time before buffets come back. Even with sneeze guards and things like that, I think that the time of the buffet in a hotel, breakfast buffets are long gone,” said Aimbridge Hospitality CEO Dave Johnson on Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.

Aimbridge manages more than 1,400 hotels for well known chains such as Hilton and Marriott. Johnson expects hotel gyms to reopen as states allow. Pools will still be good to go, Johnson says, but seating will be spaced out to promote social distancing. 

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Safety and security

Aside from wearing face masks and following the social distancing protocol, airline companies are taking measures to make traveling safe and with peace of mind.

“COVID-19 will really change security and safety screenings from the time a passenger arrives in the airport and during boarding and disembarking. We certainly don’t know yet what it’s going to look like for us (airline companies), but it’s crucial that we get these health information of passengers before they board the plane,” said Candice Iyog, VP for Marketing and Distribution, Cebu Pacific Air as she talked about health concerns of local and international passengers.

In Hong Kong, a strict 8-hour COVID-19 screening process at the international airports is newly implemented as part of tighter health measures to prevent the transmission of the virus.

These rigorous and strict health protocols will likely become the new norm for post-COVID-19 travel around the world, just as heightened security and baggage restrictions became the norm following 9/11. South Korea already has similarly stringent protocols in place, according to one recent traveler, and many other East Asian countries such as Taiwan already have temperature screening and hygienic procedures in place throughout their airports.

The impact of such screening procedures will be momentous for the travel industry: People may become more reluctant to travel not just because of safety concerns, but also because a two-week quarantine is unrealistic for nearly any vacationer. At least in some destinations such as Iceland, travelers will be able to wait on their test results from the comfort of their hotel.

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Impact in the economy

Worldwide tourism and hospitality industry is badly affected by pandemics, because of the nature of the business which is always related to the traveling of people. History had shown that epidemics and pandemics have an immediate impact on the hotels and restaurants, airlines industries, travel agencies etc, due to the international travel restrictions, media coverage and government measures.

“This global pandemic affected the travel and tourism industry with an estimated 1 million jobs lost daily (beginning on the first day of travel restrictions),” according to Nigel David, Business Development Director APAC region, World Travel & Tourism Council. That’s globally speaking.

Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon, Jr. said in one of his televised briefing that the Philippines only generated 85 billion pesos (roughly 1.68 billion U.S. dollars) from foreign arrivals during the first quarter of this year compared to last year’s 134 billion pesos (roughly 2.65 billion U.S. dollars).

“Unfortunately, we were hit by this pandemic. Our estimate for the first three months of 2020 is that our revenue from foreign arrivals decreased 35 percent,” he said.

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Technology

“We are in depth managing this crisis at the moment and we are starting to think clearly what the future of travel and how our travelers will look like and changes,” Bengzon.

“We are looking on how technology can help tourism because of this new normal. Continuous health check is one of our standards these days. We need apps for collection of data and facial recognition and also for rapid testing to see if a person is immune (from COVID-19),” said Candice.

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Immediate actions

“Our immediate concern is business continuity for our business partners. We already have bills filed in Congress and we’re consulting associations to define such activities required for this program. We’ll make sure that our tourism enterprises will have access to loans and avail financial assistance. Our government will provide ways and means to help the tourism industry get back in the scene,” said Bengzon.

The tourism undersecretary also mentioned that the game plan of DOT is to prepare the tourism recovery and response program that will cover periods up to 2022.

Bengzon’s statement echoed DOT’s earlier response to an appeal from the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) for relief and stimulus packages.

Bengzon is optimistic that the tourism industry will recover once the coronavirus lockdown is lifted.

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The new normal

The government eased the ECQ on May 16 and while many people and businesses have returned to their usual routines, the threat of coronavirus transmission is still out there and it’s not going to be a smoith-sailing transition to new normal standards

Same goes with traveling.

“Travel will not revert to normal right away. Even if the ECQ has been lifted, some LGUs will not yet be open to visitors from other places and international travel might not yet happen within the year pending the travel restrictions of other nations,” said DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat during a virtual hearing in the House of Congress last April.

But even with this announcement, Cebu Pacific is geared with readiness and preparation as soon as the global pandemic is over.

“We are preparing for the transition to the new normal. Our passengers are looking for peace of mind and sense of security when they travel. We will make sure our frontliners, our cabin crews, are fully protected for the safety of our passengers. We are driven to contactless and frictionless customer journey,” added Candice.

Bengzon said that DOT is working on training certifications post COVID-19 for food and safety regulations. “We really like tourism to get back on its feet again,” he mentioned.

“I think as soon as the ECQ is lifted and as soon as travel operation reopens, (I hope) things will go back to normal,” said Candice.

*with information and reports gathered across the globe.

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