Sec. Puyat’s ‘hallucination’ still offers hope

June 26, 2020

Those frustrated over the pandemic’s catastrophic impact on the tourism industry may easily relate to a netizen’s reaction that Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat was “hallucinating” when she implied the industry still faces a bright future.

“I have high hopes that the Philippine tourism industry will recover, and we will come out better from the current challenges that we face with the strong support from our stakeholders and partners," Puyat said in a published statement on June 22.

With stakeholders and partners like Cebu Pacific and Okada Manila announcing just recently that more employees are to be laid off, many find it difficult to imagine the rosy picture Puyat tried to paint.

Many find mind-boggling how the tourism industry, including the hotel and restaurant business, can flourish amid the onslaught of the coronavirus which could take years before an effective vaccine or cure comes along.

With many hotels, motels, restaurants, nightclubs, and entertainment places facing closures and bankruptcy, with workers from management and rank and file suddenly becoming jobless and plagued with tremendous economic hardships, a bright future is indeed difficult to imagine at this time.

On a worldwide scale, a minimum of 100 million jobs and around $2.7 trillion in global GDP are at risk, according to a report of  the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) which said the tourism industry accounts for about 10% of global GDP and one in ten jobs.

In Europe where half of the world’s tourist arrivals are, a published report said “the European Parliament estimates that the bloc's tourism industry is losing around €1 billion ($1.1 billion) in revenue per month, a devastating blow to the 27 million EU workers whose jobs are connected to the sector.”

With travel restrictions forcing many airlines to slash jobs, downsize and trim their fleets, the outlook on international tourism certainly appears bleak at this time.

Tourist travels worldwide have dropped by double digits during the first quarter of 2020 with as much as 57 percent in March, a report of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said. By the end of April, the UNWTO reported “100% of the world’s global destinations are now under travel restrictions as a result of Covid-19.”

Travel restrictions include complete or partial closure of borders; destination-specific travel restrictions barring passengers who have visited or transited through heavily-infected areas; total or partial suspension of flights; and other measures such as quarantine, self-isolation, medical certificates or the suspension of visa issuances.

In the Philippines, tourist arrivals for January to April this year declined by 54 percent, from 2.8 million to 1.3 million, according to Sec. Puyat who told a Senate hearing on May 20 “that revenue from tourist arrivals in the Philippines last January to April decreased by 55 percent, from P180.5 billion to P79.8 billion, compared to figures during the same period in 2019.”

As for the rest of the year, prospects for international tourism look bleak. The UNWTO said “current scenarios point to declines of 58% to 78% in international tourist arrivals for the year, depending on the speed of the containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders, although the outlook remains highly uncertain.”

Thus, amid the grim scenario facing the tourism industry, Sec. Puyat’s optimism seems like a bad joke. Yet hope springs eternal. And she’s still correct in saying tourism will recover, eventually. But how and when exactly the recovery starts is still unclear.

"A quick and effective restart of travel will only happen if governments around the world agree to a common set of health protocols developed by the private sector," according to the WTTC which said it’s “working with governments and travel organizations to agree on standardized health checks and cleaning protocols.”

"The critical issue is to build confidence between countries that it is safe to reopen borders without risk of reinfection and to build confidence in the general public that it is safe to fly," according John Holland-Kaye, CEO of the Heathrow Airport in London. Being in charge of the busiest airport in Europe, many trust that he knows whereof he speaks.