There’s something surreal about our country winning all these travel awards right in the middle of a pandemic, when most of the world is unable to travel, and our borders are still closed to international tourists. The recognition we received at the recent World Travel Awards Asia proves that traveling to the Philippines is a thought that’s still very much alive in the minds of people around the world.
This is the Philippines’ fourth time to win Asia’s Leading Beach Destination and the second time to win Asia’s Leading Dive Destination, which is not surprising considering the country has the fifth longest total coastline in the world, and is smack in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the global center of marine biodiversity.
I hope these awards remind us to preserve our marine life and coastal environments, not only for the benefit of tourism but to protect the livelihoods of our fishermen and to reduce the impact of climate change.
The Asia’s Leading Tourist Attraction award went to Intramuros, beating Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and the Great Wall of China, a sign that the revitalization efforts which began in 2017 are bearing fruit, and that our walled city is breathing new life for the next generation of visitors.
Finally, the fourth award, Asia’s Leading Tourism Board, was given to the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT), an honor that belongs equally to our tourism stakeholders, local government units, partner agencies and fellow Filipinos who consistently raise the flag for Philippine tourism, prior to the pandemic and throughout the crisis.
It’s because of this collaboration that we have been able to open more tourism destinations to a wider audience.
Since my last update, Ilocos Sur has given the green light to tourists from Luzon, while El Nido is now able to welcome more domestic tourists. For over a month now the dive sites in Anilao, Batangas, have also been receiving divers, who are certainly thrilled to be returning to the water. All these places require testing before travel, so as to maintain the health and safety of the host communities and other travelers.
COVID testing is a necessary requirement in these times when the pandemic is still raging, but the high cost of these tests has prohibited many potential travelers from taking that trip they have long dreamed of. I have called for a price cap on reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction and antigen tests. Tourism should be inclusive, and travel should be affordable for all. The hard work and expenses our stakeholders have put in to implement the DOT-issued safety protocols will be for naught if there are no visitors to enjoy their upgraded, sanitized and COVID-proof facilities.
Another way the DOT is making travel more accessible is through our official travel app, Travel Philippines. Users get access to the latest travel advisories and safety guidelines of the various destinations that have reopened to tourism.
The app can also be used to build itineraries and safely store digital copies of all their pertinent documents such as boarding passes, hotel reservations and medical certificates. You can access it now on app.philippines.travel and start planning for your future trips!
If food is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of trips, you might have caught a portion of the DOT’s Kain Na! festival. The nationwide festival was started in 2018 in partnership with Ayala Malls, with the aim of positioning the Philippines as a center of food and gastronomy by developing and promoting food and farm tourism. This year, of course, we had to transition the festival online, but we continue to hold our Food Tourism Exchanges as webinars and connect our exhibitors with buyers through our online Trading Post at kainnastore.com.
Last month, Kain Na! teamed up with Slow Food Manila to spark conversations about slow eating, slow traveling and the promotion of indigenous Ark of Taste ingredients. This month we discussed the future of food and gastronomy tourism with representatives from the United Nations World Tourism Organization and other international tourism organizations.
Aside from the industry talks with noted Filipino chefs and culinary icons, the festival offers e-commerce training courses for micro, small and medium enterprises, which is part of the DOT and the Department of Trade and Industry’s joint effort to help stakeholders adapt to the “new normal.”
Another private sector partnership we embarked on is the Safe Trips campaign with Nissan Philippines, promoting domestic travel by way of road trips. Whether it’s a two-hour jaunt to Batangas or a five-hour voyage to Baguio, travelers are encouraged to explore nearby tourism spots by land.
The classic road trip allows you to take in all the sights, turning a destination into a memorable journey. I personally love eating at pit stops along the way. Now, in the interest of safety, we have designated a few pit stops for travelers going up to Baguio or the other areas in the Ridge to Reef Corridor.
My final piece of good news is that our beleaguered tourism sector is being given a boost with P10 billion from the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2). What tourism enterprises and workers need to jump-start and revitalize tourism is immediate financial assistance.
Of the amount granted in Bayanihan 2, P6 billion is allocated for working capital loans, P3 billion will help displaced tourism workers under a financial assistance program, P1 billion is earmarked for tourism road infrastructure and P100 million will provide assistance to our community and regional tour guides, the ambassadors of local tourism.
We’re so close to 2021, and with it comes hope for a better year. I am certain that travel will pick up, as restrictions relax and more destinations reopen. We don’t expect travel to look the same, however. We’ll probably still be wearing face masks for the next year or so, as well as following other safety measures. We’re definitely looking at more domestic travel—road trips, short-haul flights, staycations. Considering the Philippines is Asia’s leading beach destination, I consider that great news.—CONTRIBUTED
The author is the secretary of the Department of Tourism.