Arceo: Rebound

THE tourism industry hit rock-bottom during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is undeniably a nostalgic and unbelievable experience that beset tourist destinations like Clark and Pampanga. In 2019, Clark Development Corporation (CDC) recorded 3.9 million tourists with 1.98 million arrivals at the Clark International Airport (CRK). These numbers dipped to zero during the lock-down and slowly picked-up but travel operators and tourism-related businesses were barely breathing until last year.

Noemi Julian, CDC tourism manager, said that this year, they monitored one million tourists and 248,237 arrivals. The numbers are much better than that of 2020 and 2021. Julian and the rest of the leaders in the industry are optimistic that in the next three to five years, the industry will fully recover.

The sales leads are very promising, according to Gilda Padua of the Alliance of Travel and Tour Agencies of Pampanga (ATTAP). But the industry needs all the support it can wrestle, especially from the national government and local government units.

Funding and regulation are the operative words to revive the tourism industry.

Padua says the leads must be converted to actual sales and it can only happen if the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the LGUs help them survive the recovery period. The timing is very crucial. They need the support now.

Most of the travel and tour operators closed shop during the pandemic. They need seed money to restart their businesses. The national government can shell out loans for these operators or invite investors to fund tourism infrastructure and projects.

ATTAP, the Greater Clark Visitors Bureau (GCVB) and the Hotel and Restaurants Association of Pampanga (HARP) are asking the national government to help them meet investors that can pour-in funding for tourism. Loans are good but Krizia Chu-Tranquilino of GCVB says the businesses must be directly bridged to investors just like what is being done in the tech industry.

Meanwhile, they believe that opening the borders and removing the restrictions in travel will also boost the industry. This is how the tourism leaders see their future. Padua says that to convert the leads to sales, the local governments must also help them regulate the industry.

Tourism rates in the country are way more expensive than in Thailand and other Southeast Asian Countries. The cost of transportation, food and tour guides are very high as compared to others. And worse, Clark and Pampanga’s rates are also more costly than in Iloilo City and Cebu. The airfares are more expensive in Clark. Tourists prefer using Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) because it is more affordable.

This is the challenge. CRK needs to bring down the cost of air travel. There should be a waya how to do this. The DOT and Department of Transportation must find solutions.

Also, there is no point training tour guides if the local governments cannot protect them from their competitors coming from the National Capital Region. Padua says there must be a system that has to be put in place where the tourists book their activities and destinations in Pampanga through the local travel and tours. Regulations in the local territories can be explored and it is a huge challenge to the governors and mayors. The challenges of the post-pandemic times are urgent.

Subsidies on buses and other modes of transport for tourists can also increase traffic in Clark and Pampanga. LGUS cannot fully subsidize this so there goes another challenge. But as far as the market is concerned, GCVB sees the possibility of attracting more inbound tourists coming from South America and other Asian countries. Tranquilino says the Philippine Tourism Promotion Board should explore the global market. Don’t limit ourselves to Koreans. There are other fish in the ocean, so to speak. She is right.

Bouncing back in three years is a positive insight. But again, we need all hands on deck for this to happen, just saying. (end)

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