Feeling the fun in PH: Filipinos’ current sentiments on travel and tourism
From the changes COVID-19 brought to our day-to-day operations—and there have been plenty—perhaps none are felt as clearly as physical restrictions.
Wide-scale commuting came to a halt as home office setups became the norm. Apprehension over traveling to shops and markets enabled a boom in social media shopping. And for those with the resources to take their breaks from work away from the usual setting, 2020 postponed plans indefinitely. Domestic travel was fraught with shifting regulatory requirements, and international travel became even more complicated, if not outright impossible.
This is not to say we are unwilling to understand the rationale behind these decisions; on the contrary, our research has proven that preserving safety is a priority for many Filipinos of all backgrounds.
But as a society that thrives on the global citizenship which tourism offers—and as a country that relies on tourism for its significant economic benefits— the question of what to do with travel during COVID-19 looms over the Filipino individual and institutions alike.
While the government works tirelessly to create a new tourism for the Philippines that is both sustainable and safe, we also recognize the value of understanding how the Filipino feels about traveling in a world that is anything but normal. Simply put—how do Filipinos feel about “tourism in the time of COVID?”
To answer this question, we partnered with Tangere to survey 5,000 Filipinos in order to know more about their sentiments on travel and tourism. Respondents answered questions regarding their attitude toward traveling, considerations and reservations they may have, as well as expectations on the new normal of traveling.
The survey aimed to surface sentiments of the respondents which can reflect the sentiment of the larger population.” There are very important points to note from the data gathered. We believe that the most important questions are: (1) travel plans in the near future, (2) motivations in traveling, and (3) reasons behind travel reluctance.
When respondents were asked about their travel plans that might happen soon, 57 percent affirmed their plans to travel and 58 percent of that number plan to do it in a year. Those who answered “no” are deferring their plans to a much later date, and are looking at traveling in the next two years.
It was also surfaced that the largest motivator for traveling remains to be visiting family members who are far from the respondents’ location, this was closely followed by vacation plans and then the search for work/business opportunities. Interestingly, budget remains the first consideration of the respondents in traveling, followed by health and safety.
It is also very important to note that fear still dominates the feelings that people have toward traveling, with 31 percent citing that sentiment toward the subject. This would require concerned parties to ramp up campaigns that promote traveler safety once the industry is fully reopened.
The reason that outweighs all else in travel reluctance is still the possibility of catching COVID-19 while going around. It was also identified that existing travel protocols still remain unclear for many individuals, and the need to refine messaging and unify the protocols might be a good resolution for those in charge to follow.
Other minor points that are important to take note of are the interventions of the government or the governing body into the tourism sector and from the responses that have been gathered, we can paint a picture of how well these interventions were received by the general public.
In terms of virtual tourism, 52 percent of the respondents heard about virtual tourism for the first time when they encountered the term on the survey while 42 percent are familiar with this travel technology but have never experienced it. This could mean that people value in-person experiences more than staring at the screen, which suggests that we are looking at an all-out audience for tourism once points of uncertainty are addressed.
Respondents were also asked about their awareness about Department of Tourism’s programs on assisting tourism workers and from which sources of information they found out about it. TV (76 percent) and Facebook (71 percent) were the top two preferred sources on the latest developments about the tourism sector followed by online news (57 percent).
Allow me to share some key points that will definitely be useful in forming opinions and decisions regarding the subject matter.
The most important question remains to be how Filipinos are feeling when it comes to traveling again, and the answer is that they are still fearful and apprehensive of the idea of going back out and being in enclosed spaces with people.
This is evidenced by the 31 percent of the respondents whose main feelings on traveling consist mostly of fear while the remaining percentage of respondents express feelings of anxiety and worry. It is also important to note that these feelings will remain even after they have been vaccinated as referenced by the 54 percent who are still apprehensive about traveling after being fully vaccinated.
News of vaccines and safety protocols have not been able to change perception and attitudes toward the new normal of traveling. In fact, the countless requirements have been another barrier toward traveling even for those who live near tourist attractions.
As seen in the survey results, 66 percent, 59 percent and 50 percent, respectively, cite pre- and post-travel COVID testing, higher cost due to requirements, and the need for more permits as pain points and challenges in traveling during the new normal. These factors far outweigh exposure to a COVID-positive person as a consideration for traveling.
Another important takeaway are travel considerations.
While it is surprising that budget still outranks health, the requirements that establishments functioning under the tourism sector now have to satisfy both budget and health concerns to get people to patronize them. As referenced by the 44 percent who cite budget as their main consideration and followed by health and safety protocols, the latter may be something new to the operations of the hotels and resorts but they remain to be a legitimate and valid concern for everyone.There is no doubt that the country’s most popular getaways maintain their allure.
Destinations such as Baguio remain top-of-mind, while Boracay and Palawan are still the go-tos for beach trips. Some 39 percent of the respondents see Baguio as the top destination to go to once travel restrictions have been lifted. It can be gleaned that because Baguio can be reached through land travel and it provides a wonderful and private respite within Luzon, it is at the top of the list for the respondents. (The popularity of) Boracay and Palawan, which received 30 percent respectively, can be attributed to the natural beauty that each tourist destination possesses.
Although it might be a while before we see tourists again flocking to these destinations because the survey has made it clear that Filipinos are generally still fearful about traveling. We should work toward assuaging these fears by communicating the right messages that provide comfort and certainty on the matters that we have at hand.
Our recommendations following the insights of this research mostly serve those responsible for creating fulfilling experiences rather than those who experience them.
First, we must ride the wave of innovation rather than allow it to swallow us whole. While regulations on travel have changed the way we go about tourism, they have also given rise to new approaches to sight-seeing and exploration which we can breathe new life into through our creativity. The key to success is as it has always been—the power of the story. Through effective storytelling (and effective storytellers) we will be able to engage Filipinos in new and exciting ways to move about our country, even at a time when mobility seems stunted.
To find inspiration for these stories, we need not look too far. While our approach to travel may be different, the destinations which Filipinos love and believe in have stayed the same. Thus, while the message and messenger may sound and look different, the source of this message will be the same—the destinations which make up our beloved Philippines.
We are privileged to live in a country where, despite the obstacles which impact us on a regular basis, the beauty of our cities and islands endures. It’s up to us to reconstruct what has always provided fulfilling experiences so that even in the time of COVID, these locations can enrich Filipinos in profound ways.
Lastly, for those who engage in the experience rather than generate it, I call for collaboration and understanding.
While those responsible for tourism have the responsibility to render visible the strides they have made to make travel safe and fun, we also have the responsibility to cut through the clutter of messaging to hear out these innovations. As the Philippines makes slow but steady progress toward new levels of safety and security, we owe it to ourselves to remain abreast of the various ways these changes sustain what makes our nation wonderful.
The insights from our research make it clear that our tourist destinations will remain top-of-mind; let’s come together to ensure all dimensions of tourism are accounted for so that we can discover a million new ways to love our country. INQ
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the MAP. The author is Chair of the MAP Health Committee, Vice Chair of the MAP CEO Conference Committee and Chair and CEO of The EON Group.
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