The Philippines is undoubtedly among Asia’s top tourist destinations, with exquisite tourist attractions and a rich cultural and historical heritage. While travel limitations brought about by the pandemic led to a severe revenue loss and surges of unemployment in the tourism industry, the gradual lifting of restrictions has eventually allowed the Philippine travel and tourism industry to thrive once again, reportedly boosting the economy by 6.7% over the years to come.
With its media partners Philstar.com and MovePH, the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) conducted a roundtable webinar last November 9, 2022. In this episode of the #ISAngKilosBayan Advocacy Series, ISA invited a panel of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) owners in the tourism industry to share their inspiring stories, best practices, and innovative solutions as the sector moves forward with the dynamic global trends.
The panel consisted of Mr. Datuhabib Salazar, owner of Mindanao Island Travel and Tours; Ms. Melissa De Castro of Elisse Tours and Transport Services; Ms. Maricel Montero, Museum Director of Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Arts; Mr. Mark Genuino of Halo Dive Resort, Anilao; Mr. Toton Malvar, General Manager of Mount Purro Nature Reserve; and Ms. Nikki Apoldo of Punta Isla Lake Resort in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. The roundtable discussion was moderated by ISA Associate Ms. Marie Escueta.
To reduce the surge of COVID-19 cases, establishments, especially those considered non-essential, were forced to comply with community quarantine guidelines, which included halting their business operations. In the case of the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Arts, Ms. Montero said that the culture and arts were the lowest priority during the lockdown; hence they saw an opportunity to explore and maximize technology by utilizing an online platform.
“For me, it’s a big realization and advantage for us because the online platform is something new that we can really experiment and move our way through,” Ms. Montero said.
Now that restrictions are slowly lifted, businesses focus on how to bounce back and redeem their losses from the past two years. In the case of Mount Purro Nature Reserve, they were motivated to foster a culture of sustainable tourism, driving them to shift their focus to reforesting areas in the Sierra Madre mountain range. Since there was a reduced flow of tourists and visitors, Mr. Malvar said they were able to immerse themselves in the local community during the first few months of their closure. With this interaction and help from their families and the private sector, they were able to provide the community with pandemic-related necessities.
“Ang ginawa namin nag babad kami sa community. During the first five to six months na sarado kami, we really got to know our community. Nalaman namin yung kailangan nila,” he said.
The conservation of nature also extends below the sea level, with the Philippine marine life deteriorating at an exponential speed. With this, Mr. Genuino of the Halo Dive Resort appeals to the government to help develop programs to raise awareness and have better practices regarding coral conservation as part of the sustainability discussions.
Conserving the arts and culture is also a fundamental point of concern, with Ms. Apoldo sharing how the province of South Cotabato endeavors to boost its tourism and make Filipinos aware of its beauty and culture.
“We have a very beautiful heritage of the T’boli tribe. Most of them are residing in Lake Sebu, with its preserved arts and culture. If you could visit South Cotabato, you would appreciate how there are so many beautiful destinations in the Philippines. It’s just that some of the destinations would need more exposure,” she said.
Noticing the community’s appreciation of art in their museum, Ms. Montero shared how the involvement of the local government unit and the overall concerted effort of the government became vital in promoting the arts and supporting local artists.
“It is very important that the city itself gives high priority in the future and the arts,” she said.
In addition, Mr. Salazar shared that one of his struggles as a tour operator is the stigma of violence on the island of Mindanao. However, he added that keeping a strong collaboration with the Department of Tourism, especially in the BARMM Region, helped create a sense of security for local and foreign visitors, eventually boosting tourism.
“Sa Mindanao Island Travel and Tours, since sa tourism po ako dati nagwo-work, the province of Sulu, Tawi-tawi, and Zamboanga City and even Maguindanao, we are connected to the tourism officers para yung aming guests is secured po. Naiiba yung mindset nila and nawawala yung negative thinking nila about Mindanao,” Mr. Salazar said.
On the issue of sustainability, Mr. Malvar advised that in order to make businesses in this sector more sustainable, there must be a collaboration between the public and private sectors.
“Listen to us. Mag-usap tayo. Bisita kayo sa amin, usap tayo, tapos tulungan tayo. Gamitin niyo kami. We’re here!” he said.
Given the challenges cited by the speakers, it is clear that starting a tourism business is no easy feat. Ms. De Castro shared that prior to starting your own business, thinking it through and assessing if this is something you want to pursue in the long run is very important. In addition to that, she also mentioned that it is important to gather as much information as possible before taking a nose-dive into the tourism industry.
After a fruitful discussion, the panel invited the audience to visit their respective establishments from all over the country to see the true beauty of the Philippines.
“Napakaganda ng Pilipinas, biyahe tayo, bisita kayo. Pinas muna. Pinas muna,” Ms. De Castro said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Malvar also reminded all viewers that once in a while, we must reconnect to the things that matter most.
“Disconnect to connect. Disconnect to your daily lives, to the routines, your busy schedules, your gadget, and connect to the things that matter most 一 God, nature, people,” he said.