How You Can Help Revive Local Tourism and the Economy

11 September, 2020

The Philippines economy plunged into a recession for the first time in 29 years, as it battles the COVID-19 pandemic. The gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 16.5% in the second quarter of 2020 after months of stay-at-home mandates, in a bid by the national government to curb the rocketing rate of coronavirus infections.

“The Philippine economy crash-landed into recession with the Q2 GDP meltdown showcasing the destructive impact of lockdowns on the consumption-dependent economy,” ING senior economist Nicholas Antonio Mapa told Reuters.

The present state of local tourism

One of the worst-hit sectors of the Philippine economy is local tourism, affecting around 5.2 million workers. Jose Clemente III, President of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, said that losses in the tourism industry would be around PhP500 billion by the end of September 2020. 

In an interview with Inquirer, Clemente said that the tourism contribution to economic development is equivalent to 12.7% of the GDP or more than PhP3 trillion.

A PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) survey reported that 78% of tourism industry stakeholders say that they need up to PhP5 million to recover from the pandemic. About 73% are banking on government grants and subsidies to help normalize their operations.

To help mitigate the impact of the pandemic, a congressional bill was proposed (and awaiting enactment) to inject PhP1.3 trillion into the economy, a part of which will be appropriated to tourism-related businesses. 

The proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA) will allot PhP58 billion to the tourism industry in the form of interest-free loans, credit facilities, marketing, grants for education and training, and other relevant programs.

What can you do to help support local tourism?

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While business owners are waiting for the much-needed government stimulus package, you can do your part to help them recover from the pandemic. You can patronize local products over imported goods, for example. Visit local destinations, once they reopen to the public. Dine at or take away food from local restaurants.

By supporting local businesses, you will help them get back on their feet while workers keep their jobs.

Below are tips on how to help support small businesses and travel mindfully in the time of pandemic:

1. Travel safely; never let your guard down

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Last June 16, 2020, Boracay reopened to tourists in Western Visayas. Other destinations, such as La Union, have also started welcoming tourists from Region 1. Baguio City is also eyeing a September 1, 2020 reopening of its leisure spots to tourists in the region. Wherever you may go, make sure that you practice health and safety protocols.

The World Health Organization, the Department of Health, and other health agencies are strongly advising the practice of indoor and outdoor social distancing

Social or physical distancing is keeping a distance of at least six (6) feet from other people. This should be observed with the proper wearing of face masks. The government has also recently mandated the wearing of face shields on public transportation.

Sanitize your hands after touching surfaces in public places. Use a hand sanitizer containing at least 70% isopropyl alcohol, or wash your hands with soap and water.

2. Explore solo travels

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The Philippines is imposing the longest stay-at-home order in the world. Getting cooped up indoors can do harm to your physical and mental health. If you feel you need to take a breather,consider traveling solo.

Traveling solo is ideal at this time when physical distancing is required. It is easier to move around, get a table in restaurants, and secure a seat on public transport. Traveling in a group may require you to book tables for lunch or even a private car in advance.

Traveling alone can also help you connect better with yourself, improve your decision-making skills, and save on money.

Remember to book your accommodation before hitting the road. Choose a hotel with safety precautions that has fully complied with the Department of Tourism's certification requirements and COVID-19 health protocols. This will help ensure your safety from viral infection and other health risks while you are on vacation.

3. Pack light and buy your essentials at local stores 

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Whether you’re traveling alone or with company, consider packing light. This will make traveling more convenient,  especially if you are backpacking. In the context of the new normal, don’t forget to pack essentials that can help protect you from contracting COVID-19.

Heading to Boracay? Bring only a few pieces of beachwear that you can mix and match. Pack light-weight shirts and tops that you can match with summer shorts or denim cut-offs. Do not forget your washable swimwear such as a spandex rash guard that can protect you from harmful UV rays.

Your hotel will typically provide essential toiletries; but should you need more, consider buying at local stores. This will help generate income for locals who may have suffered financially during months of community quarantine.

4. Join local activity tours

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Because of the temporary closure of tourist destinations, which lasted for months, many tourism workers were left without a steady source of income. You can help them revive their livelihood by hiring their services and tipping them generously.

Join paid activities in Boracay such as island hopping and nature walks. Do you prefer solo activities? Then engage in parasailing, scuba diving or drive around in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV).

You have been cooped up at home for months. Outdoor activities in Boracay can help you recharge your body and mind. In addition, you can extend assistance to workers who are struggling to overcome the economic impact of the pandemic.

5. Buy souvenirs at the local market

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 Bring home souvenirs and gifts from your travels. These are simple yet endearing reminders of the wonderful places you have visited and the memorable experiences you would love to revisit.

Buy local products at the local market to help boost the local economy and promote the rich Aklan culture. In Boracay, you may purchase a blouse or a handkerchief made of piña fiber. Locals of the Piña Village in Barangay Buswang make beautiful products by weaving fiber out of pineapple leaves.

Take a stroll at the local market and you will find placemats, bags, fans, and home decors made of dyed abaca cloths. For something more affordable, you may also consider buying wood and bamboo crafts, shirts, and sweet snacks.

6. Discover the local cuisine

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The best way to experience a culture is to explore its own gastronomic delights. Explore the mouth-watering specialty dishes of Boracay, which mostly include seafood from the rich waters of Aklan. By choosing Aklanon food cooked and served by locals, you are not only expanding your cultural experiences but you are also helping the province recover economically from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Make sure you try kilawin (raw fish marinated in spicy vinegar), ginamos (salted shrimp paste or fish), inigpit (broiled tuna pressed between bamboo sticks), chicken inuburan (chicken with banana pith), and other local dishes.

7. Hire a local tour guide

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Months of lockdowns left tens of thousands of workers in the tourism industry without a viable source of income. Local tour guides who mostly work as freelancers were hard-hit by travel bans and the temporary closure of tourist destinations.

Once you are allowed to explore tourist spots again, consider hiring a local tour guide. A tour guide not only suggests which places to visit or what activities to try, but he or she also shares stories that only locals would know. This would surely be a better source of Boracay information than secondary content you find on the Web!

Traveling can be both a personal and community-enriching experience. As a tourist, you can take the breather you need from all the stressors in your daily life. The community, as your host, is able to provide sources of income for its locals and promote its local culture.

Nobody truly knows how long this global pandemic will continue to wreak havoc on public healthcare and economic activities. But people, especially in developing economies like the Philippines, can’t afford to simply wait for everything to be over.

Help the local tourism industry bounce back from an economic slump by visiting local tourist destinations, dining in local restaurants, and buying local products.