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Kadayawan spirit lives on with digital events, but tourism sector struggles to stay afloat

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By Maya M. Padillo, Correspondent

DAVAO CITY — Video-sharing platform TikTok was this year’s stage for the Indak-Indak street dancing competition, one of the highlights of the annual Kadayawan Festival in August.

Entries had to be filmed either in a residence or workplace, with social distancing observed for those joining as a group, in keeping up with the local government’s continued ‘stay home’ mantra, although most quarantine measures have been eased since July.

“The Kadayawan spirit lives on,” said Renato “Gatchi” Gatchalian, president of the Davao Tourism Association (DATA) and headed the Kadayawan Digital Week, a first for the festival — a thanksgiving for good harvest and abundance — that has been running for 35 years.

Mr. Gatchalian said it was also important to find new ways of celebrating amid the coronavirus pandemic to maintain tourism promotion efforts.

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“We will not wait for the normal, we will do something now and keep on promoting Davao City… and even Kadayawan, we would not want people to forget that, even our guests abroad,” he said.

Last year’s Kadawayan attracted more than 235,000 local and foreign visitors, contributing an estimated P4.2 billion to the local economy, including P1.92 billion in tourism receipts.

That lost income from Kadayawan this year is on top of losses suffered by the tourism sector in the first half.

Hotels saw a 50% drop in occupancy rate, 80% of tour operators have temporarily closed, many homegrown restaurants have stopped operations, and tourism spots are still prohibited from reopening.

With both domestic and international travel restrictions still in effect, hotels and other accommodation facilities are not expected to make an immediate recovery, according to Prime Philippines Regional Director for Davao Ma. Luisa Abaya.

“Hotels are likely to continue pursuing alternative sources of demand such as corporate accounts (business process outsourcing companies, for example),” Ms. Abaya said in an online presentation during the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc.’s (DCCCII) general membership meeting on Aug. 28.

Pia Lourdes Partoza-Montano, president of the 35-member Davao Association of Tour Operators (DATO), said 80% of their group have temporarily stopped operations while the remaining 20% are operating at a loss due mainly to fixed expenses.

“We haven’t had bookings (since March). Until now and we don’t know when this will end,” said Ms. Montano, general manager of Par Travel and Tours, in an online interview.

She said they are hoping that the P10-billion stimulus fund for the tourism industry under the pending Bayanihan 2 law will be efficiently used and include loans for micro, small and medium scale enterprises such as tour operators and travel agencies.

DATO, in a statement, said their members need a “rescue package” from the national government.   

The local government is already on a tight budget, redirecting its entire Kadayawan allocation this year to the coronavirus response.

Generose D. Tecson, head of the City Tourism Operations Office, said the digital Kadayawan celebration is somehow a “precursor to all the other things that we are going to do in the future.”

Mr. Gatchalian, who himself decided to permanently close his restaurant Saging Repablik, said having the digital celebration is a demonstration of how people from Davao will have to adapt to change.

“We have to face the new reality. We have to live the new normal… that is why we collaborated with the city tourism office and the city government of Davao to come up with something. Something old and something new,” he said.

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