I am sure that everyone will have heard that domestic tourism under the New Normal is to reopen here in Bohol from 15 November 2020. This sounds great, but will things really change for the sector?
Remember, Panglao LGU announced several months ago now with much pomp and fanfare that it had ‘re-opened for tourism’, but the Tourism Office there still has not produced any official statistics to prove that any tourists actually came!
Today I personally think that we can only expect very few tourists, perhaps 2% of the total numbers we had at this time last year! If we are lucky, we might get 5% by the end of the year, but that is probably much too optimistic. I am talking in percentages here because only then can one really see how miniscule this restart could be!
Throughout the latter half of the eight months Covid-19 tourism closure period that we have experienced, I have been constantly concerned that our national, provincial and municipal government officials have painted a much too optimistic picture of how things could be following any re-start. I believe this has been particularly unfair to the micro- and small-enterprise sector, much of which has already crashed. Surely those who are desperately waiting to start up need to be told the truth?
Without paying guests staying in our tourist accommodation facilities, there can be no really significant business for van owners & drivers, island-hopping boat operators, tourist guides and souvenir sellers.
Even the restaurant/eatery and bar sub-sector cannot expect to get much more as incoming visitors will not be able to escape the ‘bubbles’ that will regulate all their movements.
I am always being told, “Oh David, you are such a pessimist”, to which I usually reply that “I try my best to be a REALIST all the time”. In fact, now at the age of 74, my whole philosophy of life is that we should all look at public announcements on services and development potentials in percentage terms. Too many public statements are made as 100% statements which are both misleading and unhelpful.
Instead we should be WARNING micro-business owners to face today’s realities. Yes, I said 2% improvement at the restart, but that will mostly be for large businesses. So be warned!
Maybe our leaders are bored with hearing the realities on the constraints we all face.
Forgive me, but my own list of the principal issues is as follows:- 1. Our domestic tourism market targets are the city dwellers, especially those from Metro Manila where Covid-19 has been most prominent. Realistically, only a small percentage of them will have money now to spend on vacations. Don ’t forget, Bohol enterprises will be competing against the other resort provinces as well as their own neighbors.
2. Can vacationers afford the high costs of the Health Protocols and especially costly PCR testing 72 hours before their trips? Also, air and sea tickets are almost certain to be more expensive than before!
3. Will visitors tolerate the Health Protocol restrictions on travel to tourist sites? Remember everything has to be booked through the Bohol Tourism Office, so no DIY visiting will be allowed! 3. The Provincial Government wants a restart principally with Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, & Exhibitions (MICE) which can of course only be offered by the 4&5 star resorts using their own transport, services etc. Very likely, there will be nothing here for micro-operators of accommodation, vans, boats etc.!
4. The Provincial Government’s is insisting that only businesses qualifying 100% for its new UBE Seal of Excellence will be allowed to restart. This requires holders to be in possession of all national government department, provincial and municipal permits, and accreditations, and more. Again, maybe only 30% of surviving micro-and small businesses can hope to qualify! Most have either still not completed all the Environmental Management Bureau’s permitting requirements or presently are unable to renew their existing permits which have become invalid.
It's great to see that other tourism business personalities at the other end of the business spectrum have similar concerns. Henry Chuseuy, owner of Henann Resort the biggest tourism facility in Bohol, believes that PCR testing prior to arrival is prohibitively expensive, and that the tourism bubble concept promoted by the Department of Tourism to separate tourists from the community cannot work. He should know. He has several hotels in Boracay. Apparently, only 30-50 visitors per day have been arriving in Boracay Island since its re-start!
So what’s my conclusion? Well, regrettably tourism can only begin to bloom when potential tourists get vaccinated. That will not be until well into next year. In all likelihood therefore, the normal high occupancy rates of December to May will never materialize. Keep subsisting, or better still diversify. Be smart. Face the realities!