IN HIS fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona) a couple of months ago, President Rodrigo Duterte enjoined Filipinos to help boost the economy by traveling locally once the necessary health protocols are in place. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippine tourism had grown to become a top contributor to the economy, contributing a 12.7 percent share in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, with 10.8 percent coming from domestic tourism. "Positively," the Department of Tourism has the president’s full support in the plans to "safely" spur the recovery of the tourism industry through the promotion of local travel amid the pandemic. The public perception of tourism in this health crisis, however, is another story.
In our various Zoom meetings and presentations, the strategic direction of the Department of Tourism (DOT) is the same. Following the principle of “coexisting or living with the virus,” the tourism department refused to just lie low and, instead, opted to become proactive. “Will we just wait for the vaccine? Well, we wait until 2022 before we do something?” stakeholders have expressed, noting the millions of affected tourism-related livelihood and businesses due to the pandemic (the Philippines still holds the record of having the longest quarantine period/lockdown in the world). These are all valid points in the gradual opening of tourism... but only if we are prepared to do so or when facilities and systems are in place. For most local government units (LGUs), they have yet to put up a plan on three stages-- first, to mitigate the economic losses, second is to prepare for the eventual resumption of tourism, and lastly...for its aggressive projects and programs for eventual recovery.
“In reopening domestic tourism, the DOT shall continue to engage the national government agencies, LGUs, and stakeholders to ensure the safety of visitors and communities, and more importantly, in heeding the President’s call to keep tourism destinations and sites sustainable in the process,” Tourism Chief Bernadette Puyat pointed out. This month, Baguio took upon itself the challenge to become the model of the new normal tourism. Some LGUs are hesitant, noting their lack of facilities and personnel so they opted to wait it out, maybe in a few months... or in the upcoming year. In other local Inter-agency Task Forces for Covid-19 response, the issue of opening up tourism even in the framework of “slow and safe tourism,” has been met with dismissal and sneers, at least in the past months. The fear brought about by the pandemic has not only overtaken our lives but also our hearts. Understandably, the stakeholders and community leaders are just protecting their community. But what if the promised cure or vaccine will never arrive?
There goes an active way to rationalize the slow and gradual opening of the economy, including tourism. We have to admit that the economy also translates to life, and the virus may be here with us for a long time. The numbers of those who died because of anxiety, the lockdowns and because of loss of employment or livelihood may be on par with that of Covid-19 but will, in no way, invalidate the existence of the virus. Therefore, the only way to perceive this is through the lens of balancing the economy with public health. Not through the lens of black and white, but through shades of gray. Hence, if one local government has the “capacity and means” to assure both the safety of the community and visitors in their travels even in these challenging times, then we would understand.