While the Philippines can still claim to have one of the lowest incidences of COVID-19 in the world, the effects of the new virus have hit industries that provide services to consumers.
Based on our interviews, restaurants in Metro Manila and the provinces have reported a drop in the volume of dining customers—although the number of takeaway orders is on the rise. Hotels are doing what they can to assuage guests by providing hand sanitizers and cleaning more frequently, while airlines try to woo passengers back with seat sales and other promotions.
Richie Yang of The Am-Phil Group (Salvatore Cuomo Restaurant and Bar, Salvatore Cuomo Cafe, Nanbantei of Tokyo, Chili’s, Super Bowl of China, Tokyo Tonteki and Wild West Roadhouse) said that the threat of COVID-19 has been affecting business across all their dining concepts since Chinese New Year.
“People are uncomfortable being in a crowd; they’re afraid to go to the malls where people traffic is normally higher,” Yang told Lifestyle in an email interview. “For now, we’ve requested malls to consider giving [tenants] a rental break. We are also boosting our online delivery ads.”
Other restaurant owners, particularly those with mall-based establishments, have reported similar scenes. Linfred Yap of The Relish Group (Osaka Ohsho, Kumori, Birdhouse, Wee Nam Kee franchise) said “foot traffic is down in malls but we have implemented changes to make the environment safer for patrons by providing face masks and free hand sanitizers. [We don’t have] a lot of promos really as we also don’t want to deplete margins. We’re just making it more comfortable for people to dine with us.”
Sarsa’s JP Anglo has two branches open at the moment—one at SM Megamall and a second in Legazpi Village, Makati—so he’s able to compare stats.
“Our mall-based branch is down. People don’t want to be in crowded places. SM has also reported a drop in visitors. Our Legazpi branch is doing well, somehow better than expected because it’s standalone,” Anglo said.
His ongoing collaboration with Joel Binamira of Zubuchon at BGC Stopover, however, has taken a hit. The monthlong event, Zubu x Sarsa, features dishes from the Sarsa menu and new items like Anglo’s sisig cooked three ways, and served with a side of brain aioli.
“We were expecting more people but the timing was bad. People are more cautious [about venturing out].”
One bright spot in the otherwise bleak landscape is how “a lot of people” are ordering takeaway. “That’s what’s driving sales now. Instead of eating out, many people are opting to order takeout or having their food delivered at home,” Anglo said.
Siblings J and Malu Gamboa (Cirkulo, Milky Way, Azuthai and Tsukiji) said that it’s business as usual. It helps that their family owns the building housing the restaurants.
“Take out and private room businesses are way up. Good thing all our restaurants have private rooms. Azuthai delivery is up, too,” Malu told Lifestyle.
“Many still eat in our restaurants perhaps because they feel safe and secure being in small public spaces. Most of our clients are loyal regulars who have weathered storms and crises with us. We try our best to continue to provide a safe haven for them by keeping extra clean and cautious, and making sure our employees are healthy,” she said.
Chef J said the best defense against the virus is good hygiene. Frequent and thorough hand-washing is advised and they’ve also installed hand sanitizers throughout the building.
“We’re conducting more frequent seminars with our staff led by our quality assurance team focusing on proper hand-washing and sanitizing. Only staff who are 100-percent healthy are allowed to work; otherwise HR sends them home immediately,” he said.
Chef Pauline Banusing owns several restaurants in Iloilo including Farm to Table at the Iloilo Business Park. “This year is very challenging because of Covid-19. Three tour groups have canceled their bookings, and customers are spending less for parties and food.”
As a result, she has been very strict with her staff to practice proper hygiene and to maintain their health.
“I also have had to put skeletal staff and shorten business operation hours. I do not know how long we can sustain this but I am looking at the situation as an eye-opener—to take care of ourselves and the environment.”
Hotels and resorts
The hotel industry is also one of the most affected. The hotels have taken a hit and have implemented precautionary measures such as installing antibacterial/antiviral hand sanitizers in public areas.
At Conrad Manila, operations director Emile Otte said that “in addition to adhering to relevant guidelines from health authorities, we have also taken preventive steps.”
These steps include making all arriving visitors and team members go through a mandatory body temperature scan, thoroughly disinfecting all public areas and guest rooms with eco-friendly products, and assisting any guest who displays symptoms of illness or asks for help by coordinating transfers to a designated medical facility, if necessary.
At Sulo Riviera, the boutique hotel in Quezon City, the first steps were to increase precautionary measures.
“We wanted to ensure and assure our loyal guests, as well as our employees, that the Sulo Riviera is a safe and sanitary environment,” said Melanie Cuevas, SVP for Finance. “We also encouraged the use of masks and had them made out of cloth, especially for housekeeping, kitchen and front of house employees.”
Cuevas remains cautiously optimistic. “I think what we can do as an industry is to encourage domestic spending and travel. Hopefully the situation will stabilize soon and campaigns, such as Milan and Italy’s branding initiative #milanononsiferma (Milan doesn’t stop) to assure travelers, is one such example to boost confidence in the tourism industry,” she said.
Palawan’s luxury resort chain, El Nido Resorts, reported a “slight drop of about 10 percent” in its occupancy level due to Covid-19.
“Fortunately, El Nido, Palawan has not had any Covid-19 cases,” said group director of sales and marketing Joey Bernardino. “This is one factor that continues to attract tourists. The other is that Lio and El Nido Resorts are low-density destinations. We try to cushion the impact by focusing on the domestic market while our international marketing efforts continue.”
“Like almost all airlines worldwide, the spread of Covid-19 has affected Cebu Pacific (CEB),” said Charo Lagamon, the airline’s director for corporate communications.
“We have been canceling 232 flights a week between the Philippines and mainland China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Shenzen), Hong Kong and Macau for over a month now. For a couple of days, flights between the Philippines and Taiwan were also canceled.”
The flight cancellations have affected over 275,000 passengers and resulted in P2 billion in refunds to affected passengers, she added.
The company already has cleaning and disinfection processes in place but has ramped up preventive measures as part of risk mitigation procedures.
Lagamon said that travelers are still booking flights, especially domestic, “but it’s muted compared to past years.”
CEB has an ongoing Super Seat Fest, various sales. “For March 3 to March 5, we have a Piso Sale, with promotional fares going for as low as P1. On top of this, we have reduced our year-round low fares to spur travel.
Budget carrier AirAsia is also experiencing drops in revenue. “Our airline, which has a sizable China and Macau market, is expected to post a 20-percent decline in total sales this first quarter of 2020,” said Sheila B. Romero, vice chair of Philippines AirAsia.
Among its health and safety measures are mandatory temperature screening before boarding, face masks and surgical gloves worn by the crew and provided the guests upon request, and disinfection procedures before and after each flight.
“Our efforts to increase connectivity between our islands continue to be a priority.” AirAsia will launch this quarter two new routes from Clark International Airport, raising the number of its local destinations to 14.
To encourage people to travel, AirAsia is offering super low fares for domestic travel and continuously highlighting domestic destinations.
“All these efforts are in support of the Department of Tourism’s campaign for a livelier local tourism scene,” Romero said. “We continue to innovate. That’s the only way to meet difficult times, and to move forward with our commitment to serve in our low-cost niche.”