An honest look into the tourism industry

It has been more than a year now that our tourism industry has screeched to a halt, since the coronavirus reigned supreme and left our world gasping for breath, literally.  

We are in a situation where, no matter how many times we “reinvent the wheel” to prepare for the eventual reopening of our industry in a new business environment, we still find ourselves stuck in the quagmire of helplessness because international borders remain closed to incoming and outgoing tourist traffic. And, sadly, no revenue is forthcoming.

How bad have we been hit? Bouts of desperation and other emotional issues have muddled how we see our industry’s true situation, so we decided to listen to Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon, Jr. for a straightforward, detailed, and easy-to-digest facts and figures on our industry’s current state of affairs. 

Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. gave us a straightforward assessment of our industry.
Prior to the pandemic, 1.46 billion tourists traveled the world, a total which experienced 5 percent growth annually the past 10 years. These tourists spent all of $1.49 trillion or approximately $1,020 each. The Asia Pacific region had 360 million tourists, having grown by 7 percent annually the past 10 years, and they spent a total of $443 billion, or approximately $1,230 each.

Here at home, we had 8.3 million visitors spending P549 billion, while domestic tourism registered 109.8 million trips resulting in an income of P3.1 trillion. These revenues represented a 12.5 percent share of our Gross Domestic Product and gave employment to 5.7 million of our residents.

Then, COVID-19 sneaked in. Last year, our international arrivals decreased by 83 percent to only 1.48 million visitors, and domestic tourism by 61 percent to only 43.1 million trips. Naturally, the corresponding revenues dipped drastically, only P82 billion from foreign visitors, or an 83 percent decrease, and only P1.2 trillion from domestic tourism, down by 61 percent. Consequently, 4.7 million of tourism workers lost their jobs.

Unless the international borders open sooner than expected, it looks like this year is going to be a continuation of our industry’s sad plight, if the arrival figures for January and February of this year would be used as basis. The Arrival Cards compiled by the Bureau of Immigration show that we only had 17,442 foreign visitors, down  by a staggering 98.62 percent from the 1,258,845 arrivals during the same two months last year.

So, what are the Department of Tourism and the industry stakeholders doing about this grim scenario?  We’re pinning our hopes on domestic tourism, the sector deemed easier and faster to recover; and promoting open spaces, low-density facilities which have become the preferred destinations because of the persistent threat of the virus.

Intra-regional attractions, especially those in landlocked areas, are being given the push because of the perceived safety of land travel over other modes of transportation. Of course, human resource upskilling has also been given attention in order to guarantee visitors safe mobility and eventually lead to the destination’s economic recovery.  

Surveys conducted on potential domestic travelers showed that, once quarantine restrictions are lowered, and safe, seamless travel is assured, they are willing to make that trip, as long as safety protocols and general public health concern are in place in the destination. But a sidebar to this is the availability of their disposable income.

What is more interesting is the result of the survey conducted on global travelers. Fifty-seven percent expect to be traveling within two months after the pandemic has been contained; 72 percent want to see family and friends as soon as possible; 81 percent believe they are more likely to travel after they have been vaccinated. These figures are certainly very encouraging and give us hope for the faster recovery of our industry.

However, there are also those who are still quite cautious with their next move.Eighty-four percent will not travel if there is a chance that they will be quarantined upon arrival at their destination and 56 percent believe they will postpone their leisure trips until the economy stabilizes. 

Whichever way we look at it, our industry is in the doldrums, but the future is bright, depending on how fast the travelers’ confidence level increases. Although our tenacity is being put to a test once again, our strength of character always leads to our resilience, as shown during the past debacles our industry faced. After all, to borrow what Shakespeare once said, we in the tourism industry are the stuff that dreams are made of. 


On his deathbed, comedian Bob Hope was asked where he wanted to be buried. He replied: “Surprise me!”

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Topics: tourism industry , Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon , Jr.
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