By Marilyn De Mesa

Countries around the world are facing the chill wind of COVID-19 and have taken drastic measures, such as border closures and flight suspensions, to protect their citizens.

Consequently, in tourism, initial focus will be toward domestic activities, which means we, Filipinos, have the golden opportunity to explore 7,641 islands and enjoy the beauty of our very own country. After a temporary halt to our regular programming, it will be the time for us to re-organize root and branch, lay out the necessary security and safety protocols, then local tourism, slowly and safely, will be alive and kicking again.

Did you know that we have countless amazing spots that have yet to be discovered? Let us create our own bucket list of unique local destinations. Let us be an ambassador of our hometowns and go “Balik Probinsya” to visit our long-missed relatives, reminisce our childhood games, eat our lolas’ original version of family favorite recipes while enjoying the natural local attractions, whether beaches, rivers, lakes, caves, or hot springs.

I love the stories of my Lola Balbina, especially those about her hometown, San Remigio, Antique, which is just a couple of hours from Iloilo or Kalibo. I used to imagine the scenery while listening to her tell that tales of the hidden version of San Remigio rice terraces, the beautiful and serene lake Danao with the picnic baskets on the lakeside, and the bamboo rafts on the placid waters. The sporty, who love extreme recreational challenges, has the breathtaking castle-like Ibaclag cave nestled in the middle of the rainforest to explore, within which you can find the biggest flower in the world, the Rafflesia! Lately, I was told that there were strawberry farms, which make it even more worthy of a visit.

San Remigio, soon I come, but before that, allow me to share with you what a few of my colleagues in the travel industry have to say about domestic tourism and why it is a great time to discover a beauty that is all your own.

Local travel within the Philippines among Filipinos will be one of the most logical approaches to jump-start the industry once the environment becomes conducive to do so. The identification of a vaccine is vital to generate confidence among Filipinos to start exploring. At self-contained resorts on island destinations, such as Coron and El Nido, with detached rooms or villa-style accommodations, it would be easier to confine guests with proper social distancing. Outskirt resorts, which are detached from the general public, such as those in Bohol and Cebu, would also be ideal. So are select resorts and hotels in Batanes, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Aurora, Calabarzon, Bicol, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Siargao, Camuiguin, and Davao. —JP Cabalza, general manager, Corporate International Travel & Tours, Inc.

COVID-19, as we all know, has had adverse effects on the tourism industry, both domestic and international. Our industry has had many challenges previous to COVID, like SARS, MERS-CoV, natural disasters in the Philippines, and each time we would recover. In fact, before COVID-19 there was no such thing as low season anymore. It was always high season in tourism. As in the past, the tourism industry always bounces back. I am optimistic that we need to wait only for the vaccine and the safety measures to be adopted by airlines, hotels, tour operators, and tourist spots and we will be back with a vengeance.There will be a surge in travel. Governments all over the world recognize that tourism contributes at least 17 percent to the GDP, so I am guessing that these governments will help boost travel first within their own countries, then within the region, then finally all over the world. My regular clients have been asking me to prepare land tours to Laoag and Vigan. They are itching to go on a trip. And they are even willing to bring their own cars. I have a group of travelers who have been regularly traveling with me for years now, sometimes up to five times a year. Missing each other’s company, they now long to go anywhere I plan to take them. I myself am planning to get away as soon government lifts travel restrictions and it’s to Laoag and Vigan that I plan to go by land, about 10 hours from Manila. —Bessie Escalona, president, Voyager Travel & Tours, Inc.

According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 96 percent of the world’s destinations are currently impacted by travel restrictions and other lockdown measures. As the world slowly re-opens, experts from a recent Department of Tourism web seminar “The Future of Travel” mentioned that the first to return would be domestic travel. This could start with the staycations. The staycation consumer will travel within a certain familiar area, and stay for a short while like for one or two nights. While people are thinking twice about overseas travel, staycations have become even more attractive, likely to make travelers feel more comfortable as they are familiar with the location. People will still want to go on holiday, but they are going to revert to “safety first” and so previous marketing terms like “Promo,” “Sale,” and “Discount” won’t be as effective. We have a lot of wonderful places in the country. Right now, the best way to promote Philippine tourism is to place safety first! Filipino first! — Fe Cecilia Sanchez, president, FCS Travel House

Nobody can predict when this pandemic will end or when a vaccine will be produced. Tourism worldwide has suffered the greatest blow. As tourism takes the backseat, domestic tourism must be on the front row. What is the quickest way to revive local travel? Air, land, and sea transportation, hotels, tourism sites, and local government units must ensure they are compliant with the minimum standards set by the Department of Health and probably more in order to assure jittery travelers that the destination is safe. When the country succeeds in containing the virus, everyone must do their share in promoting local destinations by utilizing to the fullest free social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, the fastest way to entice travelers. The Department of Tourism needs to help travel agents and tour operators get back on their feet through financial assistance like soft loans, online recovery seminars, and digital marketing. Together we can revive domestic tourism and survive beyond this pandemic! — Dan CerdeƱa, chairman, Pampanga Agents Travel Society

The author is the general manager of Seasons Travel and Tours.

Source: Manila Bulletin (