By Kap Maceda Aguila

THE DEPARTMENT of Tourism (DoT), according to Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, recently conducted a survey to ascertain people’s confidence with traveling — “even in the absence of a cure or vaccine for COVID-19.” The official reported that respondents (who were sought from different regions) “showed a preference to initially travel to destinations closer to home.”

People expressed a desire to go to the beach (69%), go on a road trip (54%), and a staycation (41%).

Delivering a speech at an online press conference to announce a DoT partnership with Nissan Philippines, Inc. (NPI), Sec. Romulo-Puyat explained, “When choosing potential trips within the same geographical region, respondents from Luzon showed a preference for heading to the beaches of La Union, with treks to the summer capital of Baguio. For Luzon residents outside the NCR, visiting Metro Manila was another top choice.

“Heading South, respondents from the Visayas dreamt mostly of traveling to Boracay and Cebu, with many of Cebu and Iloilo’s residents wanting to travel within their own province. In Mindanao, many wish to travel around Davao, to Siargao, and Cagayan de Oro.”

The DoT sees the significance in this readiness, as the Secretary underscored the importance of domestic travel to the national economy, describing local tourists as the “backbone of the country’s tourism industry.” She maintained that “reviving the sector is immensely crucial.”

In 2019, local tourists made some 110 million trips, generating P3.4 trillion for the sector. “What’s even more impressive is that our sector contributed 12.7% to the country’s GDP, with 10.8% of this figure attributed to domestic tourism,” Sec. Romulo-Puyat revealed.

The DoT has inked a memorandum of agreement (MoA) with NPI, represented by its President and Managing Director Atsushi Najima, to work together on what they call the “Safe Trips” campaign.

This hopes to promote responsible and safe travel, with the road trip described by Sec. Romulo-Puyat as “one of the oldest and truly memorable ways to see and explore the beauty of the Philippines. As more people have started to travel locally, we look forward with great optimism that livelihoods and jobs in the tourism sector will soon return.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Najima declared that the campaign is also about engaging communities in the identified destinations, and inspiring Filipinos to safely “rediscover the beauty of the Philippines.” Nissan Philippines will leverage its dealership network and social media presence to boost the effort. “Safety is still the priority,” continued the executive.

The Tourism Secretary stressed that the campaign will be marked by observance and mindfulness of health protocols set forth by the World Health Organization and the Department of Health. “By adopting globally standardized health and hygiene protocols, the Philippines recently received the Safe Travels stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council, a timely recognition that travel around the country is safe in spite of the continuing pandemic. Let’s do our best to keep it this way.”

In a subsequent question-and-answer portion, DoT Assistant Secretary for Branding and Marketing Communications Howard Lance Uyking reminded that while regulations may be different among local government units (LGUs), “minimum health standards (are) not.”

Replying to a question from “Velocity,” DoT Assistant Secretary for Tourism Development Planning Roberto Alabado III said that LGUs interested to be on the list of DoT-approved destinations “have to write the IATF (COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases)” then “the DoT will ensure that health and safety protocols are in place prior to opening.”

The DoT also promised to spotlight locations that are not traditional destinations, and identify local products that the agency can promote in aid of jump-starting local economies.