Post COVID travel

WITH our children based abroad, we always look forward to the annual trip to the U.S. for the Christmas holidays. But this year, we plan to stay home.

For one thing, I don’t even know if we will be able to travel by December. The U.S. still has a ban on foreigners entering the country, and who knows when that will be lifted.
With social distancing and other health safety rules on flights, how much additional will a trans-Pacific ticket cost?

The tourism industry is probably the worst affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 crisis. Worldwide lockdowns and border closures have placed the industry on life support.

For now, no one knows when the tourism industry can start opening up. Not unless you are in China. In an effort to show the world they are back to normal, hordes of Chinese tourists were shown crowding the Great Wall.

I read an article on Vox online that quoted Rafat Ali, chief executive and founder of travel industry news publication Skift, saying that “It’s going to take so long for the demand to even come close to what it was.”

With virtually all travel halted, and new government regulations still being formulated, recovery will take time. Ali told Vox he is expecting air travel to return to early 2020 levels in five years, taking into account that the airline industry took three years to recover post-9/11, and two years to return to pre-2008 revenues after the recession.

Our local airlines have made an appeal to government for financial assistance. But they have to fall in line because COVID nearly emptied government coffers and there are other urgent priorities that are matters of life and death to more Filipinos.
That’s the worry of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat. The industry looks up to her to help get their businesses quickly going again. Yet, she knows travel will not revert to normal right away, even if the quarantine is lifted.

Some LGUs will not yet be open even to domestic visitors. International travel might not yet happen within the year as we await the lifting of travel restrictions imposed by many nations. That’s because the virus threat remains until we get a good vaccine.
Expectedly, if you are an investor in a tourism development in Bohol, Boracay or Palawan, you would be anxious to start earning enough to pay debt amortizations and keep staff on payroll. Unfortunately, it is not realistic to even think that is possible at this point.

To the credit of Sec Puyat, she is keeping the fires burning by keeping a strong top of mind presence for the Philippines as a tourist destination.

There is a current DOT campaign on social media that encourages future tourists to dream of all the wonderful places here while on lockdown and wake up to the possibility the dream becomes reality soon.

Beyond that, the tourism secretary’s work is to prepare the industry during this business lull to meet the requirements of a post COVID new normal.

For example, once people get the nerve to travel again, they will be very paranoid about health concerns. I will be.

Are the hotels and tourism-related establishments following strict protocols for sanitation or disinfection of accommodation, tourism transport services, and other tourism-related services to include restaurants, and spas?

Top international and local tourism establishments are now testing new procedures designed to win confidence of guests.

For instance, Inc, an online business site, reports: “Daily housekeeping services likely won’t be available. Some guests, like the ones at the Four Seasons in New York City, are given separate bags to place their dirty towels, dirty linens, and garbage in. Guests then let the front desk know when they are ready to have their bags collected, avoiding contact between employees and guests.

“Once guests check-out, rooms are left empty for 24 hours until a sanitation crew in hazmat suits can disinfect. Once the room has been cleaned, the rooms are left empty for another 24 hours. Then, staff wearing PPE’s can get the room ready for the next guest.”

Such a procedure sounds too paranoid, but may be a necessary confidence builder until the virus is under control. Here, we should look at how to uphold health standards in a cost-effective way.

DOT must get industry agreement on what the new standards will be not just for hotel room sanitation, but also for capacity limits for tourism transportation, restaurants, tourist spots, such as parks and museums, and meeting conventions to ensure social distancing.

Industry experts say technology will be a key tool in the revival of travel, with electronic passports and IDs, boarding passes, medical screening, and robot cleaners being deployed widely to limit physical contact between people and surfaces. These will all cost money that cannot all be passed on to tourists without causing a drop in visitor numbers.

There are other realities in the new normal that stakeholders must remember in setting their expectations. The most basic is: people will have less money to do non-essential travel in the foreseeable future. At the most, they might travel close to home, some place they can drive to.

With the social distancing requirement of keeping the middle seat vacant, even budget airline fares may go up 50 percent or more. The increased cost of travel will most certainly impact on the industry’s prospects.

New government rules are also a disincentive for travelers. The mandated two-week quarantines on arrival or reentry could become permanent until a vaccine is available. People with limited vacation time will just avoid crossing international borders.

Technology that saved the day for many corporations during the lockdowns will likely become the norm. This means virtual meeting technology like Zoom will make the need for business travel questionable.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the travel industry will not soon “revert to normal” as we used to know it. Industry stakeholders must now creatively think of how to survive the new normal. In that endeavor DOT must be seen as their ally. They are in this together. (

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