Cebu travel/tours sector appeals for economy-driven protocols to support the industry



CEBU CITY – Tour operators and travel agents in Cebu and in Central Visayas appealed for economy-driven protocols to support the heavily impacted travel and tour tourism industry to alarming levels never seen before, according to Desiree Chan, general manager of Southwind Travel &Tours in a recent virtual Tourism Coffee Table Discussion during the launching of Cebu Business Month (CBM) 2021, an annual event hosted by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has tremendously impacted the travel and tourism industry to alarming levels never seen before where majority of travel establishments have temporarily closed for over a year now; some have relocated to a ‘work from home’ (WFH) arrangement, if not ceased to operate at all,” Chan said.

According to her that all of these were due to the slump in market demand both inbound and outbound, coupled with the uncertainty of when travel will really restart. Fearless forecasts of a 2024 return of international arrivals to pre-COVID levels under a new normal scenario sounds really concerning.

She bared that tour operators and travel agents now focus on domestic tourism and serving essential travel needs of passengers who must travel at this time. The travel/tour core business comes from out of town clients who need package tour components for their convenience, safety and security.

While local tourism has slowly revived, Cebu residents book services like hotels, transportation, destination activities directly by themselves. However earnest these strategies are, they have not resolved the sector’s problem of depleting financial resources, Chan added.

Chan said that the sector is aware of the limitations and priorities of government but appealed for support on matters of relevance:

  • For the Department of Tourism (DOT) in consultation with stakeholders, to set clearer direction and strategies with a timeline for a restart, hopefully with relevant forecasts to guide tour and travel stakeholders make informed decisions and action plans such as study on mobility of the fully vaccinated market.
  • For the government to craft more economy-driven resolutions on travel protocols such as shortened quarantine period; increase in number of international passengers allowed to enter in various airports of the country; and clarity and stability of entry and exit rules, so we can be viewed favorably and be trusted by travelers.
  • Fiscal incentives like tax breaks for at least 2020-22, the period when the industry was hit the most; and some subsidy for medical and health benefits for tourism workers, which cannot be covered by the sector’s existing budget.

“Business continuity is still our biggest challenge as far as financial planning is concerned. The travel situation has not improved in fact, it has worsened these past weeks as we enter mid-2021,” Chan pointed out.

Since April international flights have suffered a cut back due to IATF’s cap on the number of passengers allowed to enter daily. Quarantine protocols of 10 days; an abrupt seizure or diversion of flights and unpredictable closing of borders have discouraged travelers more.

Domestic tourism is not too appealing also at this time, Chan lamented with the non-uniformity of quarantine protocols among provinces and cities, some of these too complicated to comply.

She said that with this rather dismal situation, travel and tourism business is in a financial distress to survive, amid continuing overhead costs, a big slump in market demand due to unavailability of international and domestic flights, unpredictable border closures and inadequate market intelligence support.