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.