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The Future of Tourism

With most of the world on lockdown, tourism and all of its related industries have experienced a massive slowdown in operations that is seen to continue while there is no COVID-19 vaccine. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) already predicted that over 100 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector will be lost around the world, leading to a total global GDP loss of about US$2.7 trillion (Php135.8 trillion).

With this context in mind, UNAWA felt it fitting to close its free “Navigating the New Normal” webinar series with a discussion focused specifically on the tourism, travel, and hospitality industries. Its eighth and final webinar, “Travel & Leisure 2.0: Reimagining the Travel and Hospitality Sectors,” featured a star-studded panel of industry leaders who shared their tips and insights on how small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in these industries can rise above the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Here are the highlights:

1. Strengthen safety protocols.

In a pre-recorded message, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat shared what the government plans to do to revitalize the industry. She revealed that the DOT was planning to explore the concepts of “travel bubbles” and “travel corridors,” which will link tourist spots in the Philippines with no COVID cases with other tourist spots around the region in the same situation.

“These are the things that we are discussing with our other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) partners, that we can have this travel corridor and travel bubble wherein the tourists will feel safe because they are going to a place in our country which has no COVID,” said Romulo-Puyat.

This highlights that while the DOT is pushing for the reopening of the country’s tourism sector, it is only doing so by taking every measure to keep both tourists and service providers as safe as possible. Internally, it will only be allowing hotels, restaurants, and other similar establishments to operate if these accommodations are strictly enforcing health protocols within their locations.

“All these accredited DOT-accommodations have to follow health and safety protocols, and the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) recently approved that no accommodation can operate unless it is accredited by the DOT,” added Romulo-Puyat. “And again, the DOT will not accredit if we cannot ensure the safety and health of our guests.”

2. Accept the realities—then plan accordingly.

While it is good to look at the bright side of things, it is important to be aware of the entire picture. Jaison Yang, President and Co-owner of travel agency Travel Warehouse Inc., says that it is important for his fellow SME owners in the travel and hospitality sectors to know where the industry is going so that they can plan their strategy for both the short-term and long-term.

“I’m not saying let’s not be optimistic, but I think this is the time to be realistic, because the only way to recover is acceptance,” said Yang. “If you don’t accept that these things are happening, you cannot plan and you cannot recover.”

That reality is how travel agencies such as Yang’s are in a “wait-and-see” scenario, wherein they will not only have to wait for the government to reopen the country, they will also have to wait for other related industries to be confident enough to continue operations as well. While Yang knows that the situation is grim, he nevertheless finds it important for entrepreneurs to take all of these realities into account when planning for the future.

“If I may quote a colleague, some people are sugar coating that the tourism industry is just on vacation. But he said that the industry is not on vacation, but it’s on forced leave,” he added. “For us, it’s a wait-and-see. No matter how many times we plan ahead, it will always depend on the situation within the hotel industry, airline industry, and other partners.”

3. Communicate and build trust with your clients.

Bel Castro, Assistant Dean of the College of Hospitality Management at Enderun Colleges, shared many well-researched insights for SME owners in the hospitality sector, or those who run hotels and other similar accommodations. Among her tips was in response to a question about how budget hotels can compete with 2-star or 3-star hotels who were slashing prices, where she shared the importance of being communicative with prospective customers.

“If you are managing your safety issues, you must communicate, communicate, communicate,” said Castro. “If you go into hiding and you disappear from people’s view… when [people] start planning to travel again, you’re not on their shortlist. Nakalimutan ka na (You’ve been forgotten).” 

She cited research from travel market intelligence agency Skift, which has been publishing various studies on the state of the travel and tourism industry during and after the pandemic. One research she highlighted was how the most effective businesses in the sector were using the pandemic as an opportunity to rebuild trust with their clients by actively communicating with them, which will prove helpful in the long run.

“It’s a great quote from Mr. Ali who runs Skift, [who] said, ‘Wear your pain on your sleeve.’ Let your customer know that you are suffering just like them, [that] you are taking care of your staff, because by extension they will believe that you will take care of them. These will pay dividends later on because no one is going to buy your products if they don’t trust you, and that trust has to be built,” advised Castro.

4. Find opportunities to collaborate.

Airlines were among the most impacted by the pandemic, as the global lockdowns meant that they were among the first to be restricted to operate because of the health risks involved. But Atty. Jomar Castillo, Chairman of AirAsia Philippines, revealed that despite all these setbacks, the airlines were still operating in some capacity with the help of the government. 

“It’s wrong that airlines stopped operations completely. All of us were part of the repatriation flights of the DOT,” shared Castillo. “Airlines were operating during the pandemic, so we’re pretty much ready to fly people safely after the lockdowns.”

What Castillo found surprising, though, was how all of the major airlines were helping each other out throughout the lockdown, despite being each other’s competitors. He highlighted that this culture of collaboration should extend to all kinds of businesses, whether they’re competitors, related industries, or even other faraway sectors.

“In this time when we’re all in a crisis, everybody needs to work together. During the pandemic, the airlines were all working together, [even if] we’re direct competitors,” said Castillo.

Itinerary for Recovery

The recovery process for businesses in the tourism, travel, and hospitality sectors will be a slow and challenging one, but we hope that these tips, along with the other great dscussions and insights from the webinar itself, will help SMEs get started. The itinerary for this recovery journey may be long and complicated, but businesses must be laser-focused so that they can successfully reach their destinations.


We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.


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Leap to Entrepreneurship

Because of the adverse effects of the lockdown, many Filipinos are now looking into starting their own businesses to make a living. You may have seen stories of recently laid-off employees or overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) turning their setbacks around by going into entrepreneurship and becoming their own bosses.

That was the topic of UNAWA’s recent free webinar: “From Zero to Hero: Leap from Unemployment to Entrepreneurship.” We invited self-made entrepreneurs who were able to grow their businesses from scratch, to share their insights on how their fellow Filipinos can start their entrepreneurial journeys.

Here are three of the tips they shared:

1. Do your research

Before Rolandrei Viktor “Zark” Varona became an entrepreneur, he wore many hats in various food establishments, most notably as part of the cold kitchen staff of a cruise liner for two years. However, throughout his professional life, he still stuck to one dream: open and run his own restaurant.

When he finally opened fast-food chain Zark’s Burgers in 2009, he had to take the leap from being a chef to being a restaurateur, and it wasn’t easy. On that end, Varona shared one simple but very important tip for other aspiring entrepreneurs: doing extensive research about what they’re getting into.

“‘Yung biggest challenge para sa ‘kin, nag-jump ako from cook [tapos] naging entrepreneur (The biggest challenge for me was jumping from being a cook to being an entrepreneur),” said Varona. “Ang ginawa ko, mas doble effort para pag-aralan yung mga best practices ng mga nauna na, ng mga malalaking brands (What I did was to exert double the effort in studying the best practices of the ones before me, of the big brands).”

He also added that he was able to ask for advice from his colleagues in previous jobs. As these were experienced restaurant managers, he was able to apply their insights into his own business.

Humingi ako ng tulong sa mga supervisor, sa mga manager ko sa dating trabaho. Buti naman, we shared the same vision, same values, so tinulungan nila ako magbuo ng company (I asked for help from my supervisors and managers from past jobs. Good thing we shared the same vision, same values, so they helped me build a company),” shared Varona.

2. Don’t be afraid to fail

One of the biggest reasons why most people are scared of starting their own business is all of the risk and uncertainty that comes with it. It’s almost guaranteed that an entrepreneur will first need to put in money when they start the business, and it will take them some time to recoup that initial investment.

Rodel Anunciado, co-founder of agritech firm BINHI Inc., has a unique way of viewing the losses entrepreneurs incur from running their businesses. For him, it’s best that business owners treat these losses similarly to the tuition fees they pay to study in a university, except the school in this case is the business.

“When you lose money doing business, it’s a form of tuition fee,” said Anunciado. “With all the challenges, with all of these things that happen to you and your business, you just have to fight on. Learn and move forward.”

He added that most aspiring entrepreneurs are afraid to start their own businesses because they are pressured to make it as perfect as possible, and to execute their strategies without making any mistakes. Anunciado stressed that it’s not about doing things perfectly, but doing things as best as you can and then improving afterwards.

“My mindset [is] positive action more than perfectionism,” he said. “You get things done whether [it’s good or not], and then you go back and make it more ‘perfect’. Use data and then do it, because once you don’t do it, you don’t know whether it will work or not.”

3. Look into government programs for help

For those who need extra support in starting their businesses, the government has various programs aimed at helping aspiring entrepreneurs learn the necessary skills needed. Various government agencies offer workshops, training programs, and other useful programs that can help an entrepreneur get started, scale up, and become successful.

One of these agencies is the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA. In the webinar, Rosalina Constantino, Assistant Executive Director of TESDA’s Planning Office, talked about TESDA’s various programs to help Filipinos start their entrepreneurial journeys. She highlighted the TESDA Online Courses, which are free and accessible resources for anyone to learn more about entrepreneurship and a variety of other topics and industries.

“We have programs to help Filipinos upskill and retool themselves and prepare them for a job and a livelihood after,” said Constantino. “We have this battle cry, ‘TESDA abot lahat’ (TESDA reaches all), [which means not just] towards global competitiveness or workforce readiness, but also those who are unreached, [the] social equity part of our responsibility.”

The webinar also featured a special guest speaker: Melvin Santiago Rojo, who runs Iloilo-based bakery Myrnz Cakecreations with his wife Myrna. Rojo shared his story of how he and his wife used to work as OFWs in Brunei, but then came back to the Philippines because they wanted to start their own business.

What was able to help the couple was the Negosyo Center program of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). With the support of the DTI, the two were not only able to grow their business into one of the most well-known cake shops in Iloilo, but also promote their cakes around the country through DTI’s roadshows and exhibitions.

Take the leap

These three tips only scratch the surface in terms of what entrepreneurs will need to start their own business, but we hope they were helpful all the same. As Anunciado puts it, you’ll never know whether or not your business will work until you try it out and take the leap.


We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.


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Overcome These Top Business Barriers

With businesses now being allowed to slowly reopen, owners of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) are looking for ways to reopen and operate safely, and also refine their business strategy to meet changing needs. Several months of community quarantine have dampened their sales and forced them to adjust to the new normal, so the next few months will be critical in keeping their businesses afloat.

Fortunately, they do not have to do it alone. Many government agencies, large companies, and even fellow MSMEs have rolled out products, programs, and projects aimed specifically to help small business owners get back on their feet. These MSME enablers were the highlight of our sixth webinar, “Ready, Set? Reboot! MSME Enablers in the New Normal.”

In the webinar, the panelists were asked to identify the biggest barriers MSMEs are currently facing in their road to recovery. Here, we list their replies and highlight how each of their organizations are helping MSMEs adapt to the new normal:

Barrier #1: Lack of Information

When Jude Buelva established hyperlocal delivery startup Pandalivery as a college student back in 2017, he found it hard to find resources that would help him start his entrepreneurial journey. He highlighted how this lack of information is a major barrier for anyone who wants to put up their own business.

“As a student aspiring to become an entrepreneur years ago, hindi ko alam (I didn’t know) where to start. Entrepreneurs have a really hard time accessing information,” said Buelva. “Hindi nila alam kung paano magsimula, ano yung opportunity na meron sa kanila, and ano yung available na resources sa kanila (They don’t know how to start, what opportunities are present, and what resources are available for them).”

Today, Buelva is enabling other businesses in Camarines Sur and Albay through Pandalivery, a logistics startup for food, groceries, and medicine. His hyperlocal approach allows Buelva to contribute in building the business community of the Bicol region, ensuring that his fellow entrepreneurs have resources available to grow their businesses.. 

Ghian Marucot, Co-founder and COO of global e-commerce enabler eCFULFILL, recommended that MSME owners seek out enablers like the organizations of the panelists. These businesses, government agencies, and groups have a lot of useful information readily available to any entrepreneur who needs it. 

“[By using] these services, makikita niyo (you’ll see) how easy it really is to recover using online platforms,” said Marucot.

Barrier #2: No Confidence in Their Business

Both Buelva and Marucot also pointed to entrepreneurs’ lack of confidence in themselves and in their offerings as major barriers in scaling up. While entrepreneurs have to face many uncertainties in how their products will be received or how their business models will fare, both of them agree that these are necessary in order to scale up.

“When you talk about scaling up or expanding, parang natatakot sila kasi baka mawala sa kanila yung product (they’re afraid that they might lose control of the product) or they’ll actually spend more,” said Buelva. “But they don’t realize [that] if you don’t risk, you’ll never really grow.”

This barrier is especially close to Marucot’s heart, as eCFULFILL’s platform allows local retailers and merchants to sell and market their products to potential customers all over the world, through global e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Wish, and Etsy. He assured entrepreneurs that their products will find a market abroad, as Filipino-made goods already have a reputation for being high-quality.

“We have very good quality Filipino products. Our brands can be global brands,” claimed Marucot. “The way we present our products, yung mga designs natin (our designs), they’re globally accepted. Be confident with your product, let’s bring it out there. Magugulat kayo (You’ll be surprised) how [receptive] the global consumer is to the Filipino product.”

Barrier #3: Reluctance to Change

The webinar also featured two representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which have been rolling out and promoting various programs that are helping MSMEs cope with the effects of the pandemic. Both also talked about common barriers experienced by MSMEs that they’ve observed in their projects.

Jerry Clavesillas, Director of the Bureau of Small and Medium Enterprise Development at the DTI, highlighted that entrepreneurs must be adaptive especially with how quickly the market is changing. MSME owners who still fall back to their habits and models prior to the lockdown will find it much harder to thrive in the new normal.

“During this time, the challenge for our entrepreneurs in getting back to their operations is the reluctance to change. Nagbabago ang preferences ng market (The market’s preferences are shifting), so you have to change, you have to adapt to the new norm,” said Clavesillas. “The mindset of our people should be attuned to the demands of the times.”

Clavesillas added that having a change in mindset was one of seven Ms that the DTI is promoting to MSMEs in order for them to succeed. For the other six Ms, check out this post from the DTI.

Barrier #4: Low Digital Skills

One of the key programs that the DTI rolled out during the lockdown was CTRL + BIZ Reboot Now!, a series of free webinars that highlight various topics on how MSMEs can enter the digital economy. Mary Jean Pacheco, Assistant Secretary for Digital Philippines and DTI E-commerce Lead, shared in UNAWA’s webinar that hosting CTRL + BIZ has been a great learning experience both for the MSMEs and for the DTI.

For Pacheco, one of the insights she gathered was how there was a general lack in digital skills among many Filipinos and MSME owners. She enumerated tiers of digital readiness among MSMEs, and she noted how many MSMEs were still in the first tier: having an email for their business.

“We have to make sure that our SMEs are digitalized,” said Pacheco. “There are many SMEs who don’t even have an email. Dapat, geared up ang ating mga kababayan to do the basics (Filipinos should be geared up to do the basics).”

On the individual level, Pacheco urged Filipinos to be more productive with their use of the Internet. She cited how Filipinos were among the most frequent Internet users in the world, but also had low adoption of other digital products such as mobile wallets. 

“We spend 10 hours a day on the Internet,” she said. “If we will be more productive [by using] the Internet either as a consumer or as a seller, our e-commerce will really grow.”

Break the Barriers

As Pacheco highlighted, one of the most effective ways to break these barriers is to invest in digital platforms. By using technology to access information, increase confidence in their products, and change their operations, MSME owners can get a head start in their efforts to reboot their business.


We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.