The nation of the Philippines is working towards a “restart” of tourism Post Covid-19 in a positive light. The opportunity is being seized to advance Philippines tourism towards a more sustainable and responsible tourism model.
Bernadette Romulo-Puyat – Philippines Department of Tourism Minister – has a hefty task as she prepares the industry for the new normal.
The Philippines is looking towards the restart of travel. The nation’s recent campaigns on domestic tourism are focused on how travel can be enjoyed while following stringent parameters to ensure safety. In the longer-term, campaigns will encourage responsible practices and behaviour.
And the Philippines also aims to strengthen its collaborations with other countries and international organisations in leveraging existing resources to create more awareness about sustainable tourism.
Phillipines receives WTTC Safe Travels Stamp
In September 2020, the Philippines became the 100th country to be awarded the WTTC Safe Travels stamp, recognising its alignment to the health and safety guidelines for tourism related sectors of the WTTC. The stamp is granted to governments and businesses around the world that have adopted globally standardised health and hygiene protocols, give assurance to travellers and consumers that they can experience “safe travels”.
Since the awarding of the stamp, the Philippines Department of Tourism (DOT) now assumes the role of “Safe Travels Ambassador”, whose duty is to advocate and implement the Safe Travels protocols in the country, not only for private tourism enterprises but more importantly, in order for destinations to be compliant with the protocols.
The current health crisis has created a paradigm shift from mass tourism to a more specialised, nature-based demand in the Philippines. This has created an increasing awareness for the need for conservation. The government says it continues to support nature-based tourism and ecotourism development by improving tourism products through research, planning and capacity building.
Sustainability top of mind
Even before the pandemic, sustainable tourism had been a major trend, not only in attracting “eco-tourists”, but also in preserving a destination’s natural wonders. Sustainable tourism is already mainstream in the development and enhancement of the Philippines’ products that take care of the environment, involve the host communities and stakeholders, and are economically viable.
The development of fun and exciting activities that cause the least disturbance to natural assets and cultural heritage are increasingly being developed and promoted here. And more importantly, the government is working to ensure the safety and protection of tourism workers and local host communities.
Sustainability – not a new concept for Philippines
Already in 2018, the Philippines took a drastic step in closing its top tourism destination, Boracay Island, receiving more than two million visitors annually before the shut-down. The closure was an effort to rectify the environmental degradation to the island’s waters and coral cover and rehabilitate the island as an environmentally sustainable tourism destination.
Boracay reopened in 2019, but the Philippines is looking at similar rehabilitation efforts in other island destinations, particularly Coron and El Nido in Palawan, Panglao in Bohol and Siargao in Surigao del Norte. This is to ensure that environmental sustainability is truly a nationwide endeavour.
The government’s goal today is thus for the Philippines to be recognised as a premier environmentally sustainable destination. In addition, the DOT has partnered with various organisations that support environmental sustainability to train hotel management and staff on sustainable tourism practices, especially in the time of the pandemic.
So, what does the tourism roadmap look like for coming months and years?
“Sustainable tourism must be our new normal,” says Ms Romulo-Puyat. “This is the best time to reset tourism by re-educating our stakeholders on responsible tourism practices, starting with individual collective efforts and gearing towards a more sustainable future.”
The Philippine government also launched the “Save Our Spots” (SOS) campaign, which leverages celebrities to encourage the public to help protect tourist spots in small ways. It has been noted that the public is increasingly becoming more conscious in keeping spots like Rizal Park and Intramuros clean, and that the younger set are more aware of maintaining the cleanliness of destinations.
In the new normal, the culture of safe travel is sure to be ingrained in the tourism industry. The Philippine government is working closely with tourism enterprises to ensure they will be ready to receive guests, thanks to the issuance of clear Health and Safety Guidelines. These have been issued for accommodation establishments, tour operators and travel agencies, restaurants, tourist land transport, not to mention MICE venues and organisers, spa establishments, tourism attractions such as parks and museums, and for beach and island destinations.
The aim of all this? To boost the confidence of guests and visitors, in the knowledge that at every step of the travel experience, their safety is ensured.
Photo: © Alana Harris -Unsplash