"All bad things shall pass, but we must prepare first."
In a previous article, I identified the tourism and travel sector as the “biggest loser” in this war against the pandemic.
Last year, the Philippines received 8.26 million tourists, and yes, count in the POGO workers into the pot. This year, it does not look like we are going to achieve even a half of those 2019 numbers, thanks but no thanks to the virus that originated in Wuhan upon Hubei in central China.
But of course, thanks but no thanks as well to the inadequate (the kindest descriptive I could fathom) to the “duke” in charge of health concerns.
Meanwhile, Vietnam, our Asean partner, is opening its doors to tourists, but selectively.
The Indo-Chinese country is probably the best template to use as comparison. It has a population of 96 million; ours is 108. It has a land area of 33 million hectares; ours is 30 million. Its per capita income is $2,850; ours is about $3,200. It also has an overseas worker component to its economy; ours is larger in numbers, though.
Now let us segue to the travel sector, the one worst hit by Covid and the inadequacy of our response to the same. Last year, Vietnam welcomed 18 million tourists, still less than neighboring Thailand, the tourism leader in the Asean region. But compare this to our 8.26 million, and drool with envy.
In 2000, there were just about 1 million foreign visitors to Vietnam. In the same year, we had about half a million more, which includes a legion of balikbayans sporting American and Canadian passports. (How many times did Gabby Lopez fly into Manila from San Francisco?) Compare the growth of tourism in Vietnam from 2000 to 2019 (1 to 18) versus ours (1.5 to 8.26) and die with envy.
But that’s not the sad part. While the number of tourists throughout the world will shrink drastically because of the virus, how much less welcoming would our fun-loving country in 2020, 2021 and 2022, as compared to Vietnam, where the people are rather dour, not as friendly or as fun-loving as we are (or claim to be)?
Don’t figure. Especially if you are in isolation, either in your home or in some shelter for Covid victims, waiting for that precious test that the “duke” and his minions, mercilessly thrown under the bus each time, cannot give quickly enough.
Travel is going to be anchored on trust over the next three years, probably beyond, depending on whether a vaccine can be discovered and tested within the next 12 months, and distributed universally towards the end of next year. Trust of the country to be visited, that is.
Trust in its health system.
Just the other day, Vietnam’s prime minister proudly announced that being the host of this year’s Asean summit in Da Nang, he prefers to welcome his confreres personally, instead of a summit via Zoom or whichever. Because he knows theirs is a safe place on the Covid scale. (Only 328 cases with no fatality, even if they share a 1,400 kilometer land border with China).
That trust will be conditio sine qua non before people regain enough confidence to chuck their worries and anxieties about health in favor of their proclivity to feast their senses upon the wonders of the rest of the world.
Taiwan is studying when to open their borders to international visitors other than the most important of business travelers, examining how other countries have managed their health situation. To revive the domestic economy though, the government has relaxed domestic travel restrictions, and offered a $1 to $3 consumer coupon starting this month. Which means for say, a 1,000 NT dollar purchase, you get a 3,000 dollar coupon acceptable for most everything you buy, or eat, the 2,000 of which government subsidizes. Just so you will spend, and revive the economy.
Initial studies show that in the first tier of countries Taiwan might welcome are New Zealand and Palau, then Vietnam and Brunei, and they are studying how they would welcome their “best” friends, the Japanese, who in the latest coronavirus figures ranked 44th in the world tally, with about 17,000 cases, and taming the contagion well, versus our country which has overtaken Argentina and Romania, to become the 38th most infected nation with more than 20,000, and still raging.
And then again, does any country in the rest of the world trust the figures churned out by our health officials, led by the duke who blames everyone and everyone’s mother but himself? Have mercy on us, St. Francis (thanks to Sen. Sonny Angara).
Or in this land of anting-antings, one asks “anong bertud (that’s how Tagalog folks mispronounce virtue insofar as they refer to amulets) meron ang duque de Aguilar (in Pangasinan, not in Bacoor) that he cannot let go? The analogy was supplied by another senator, Ping Lacson.
Kawawang Berna. She reminds me of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who will huff and puff and run in circles twice and thrice as before just to coax visitors to come have fun in the Philippines.
But unless visitors find our health situation trustworthy enough to take a risk, perish the efforts for now. Or perhaps beyond this year, and into 2021.
Better perhaps to prepare for the beyond. Better perhaps to improve the infrastructure, focus on just a few places, and make them truly world-class, sustainable, and infrastructure-equipped, as legacy to the people for the next president.
All bad things shall pass, but we must prepare first. And the first element is regaining trust.