Industry experts share outlook to jumpstart Phl’s hospitality industry

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By Monsi A. Serrano

More than being the face of Philippine culture and values, hospitality has been the trait on which hotels of five-star class are built in this country.

No place in the world can stake a claim to the hospitality industry the way we Filipinos do – with natural cheerfulness, warmth, sincerity and care in the service of guests.

So beyond the best-polished marble floors, rose-hinted scent of wooden panels and staircases, and the air of luxury breathed between sips of champagne and nibbles of caviar, what’s been missed most in our lock-downed hotels were the smiles and ministrations that cheered the heart.

The pandemic had truly struck hard in the industry of accommodation, with grand events and year-long reservations canceled for fear of spreading the novel coronavirus. . Now that the pandemic is better understood, the hotel industry has come back to life with scientific and internationally-accepted health risk mitigation protocols in place.

But before that, let’s take a peek at the industry’s contribution to the economy before COVID.

Booming industry pre-COVID

Last 2019, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat revealed that there were more than 5 million people gainfully employed by the hospitality industry in the Philippines with a worth of 2.2 trillion on the entire national industry and generated 12.7 percent of the GDP of the country. 

To her credit, the Tourism Secretary has been very active in promoting the Philippines and communicating with the industry. She explored collaborations with various private corporations to ensure that the growth in the Philippine tourism industry was not just sustained, but also surpassed the year-on-year growth until the pandemic struck unexpectedly.

It was like a strike of lightning that hit the country’s hospitality industry and the year 2020 was just starting. The once robust and bustling tourism plans and activities for the whole year were forced to lockdown. What makes it more unbearable and disheartening for those who were employed by the industry is the fact that it gave them uncertainty at the least, while others received heartbreaking news as their companies were forced to shut down permanently.

Economy opens, but…

As the country’s vaccine initiative has taken place, this resulted in the confidence for travelers and local tourists to enjoy a staycation. However, the new normal posited many new challenges for the hospitality industry such as higher costs of operations; lesser capacity in shops, therefore weaker sales; and other COVID-related factors that have changed the attitude of the market.

Cognizant of these issues, the British Chamber of Commerce Philippines in partnership with Santos Knight Frank, recently hosted a digital event titled Hotel Outlook: The Road Back to Business. The Chamber’s Executive Director and Trustee Chris Nelson and Santos Knight Frank’s Chairman and CEO Rick Santos moderated two separate panel discussions, tackling the prospects for the tourism and hospitality industry in the Philippines.

Nelson facilitated a Q&A session with Department of Tourism (DoT) Undersecretary Verna Esmeralda Buensuceso, asking about the government’s efforts to jumpstart the hotel and travel industry amidst the increasing positive cases of Delta variant.

Usec. Buensuceso emphasized that in preparation for the new normal and to reboot travel and tourism in the country, the DoT has ensured accelerated vaccination and has initiated programs related to upskilling and retraining the frontliners. The Department is also looking forward to utilizing the list of countries in IATF’s Green Lanes ensuring safe international travels.

The Chamber commends the DoT’s continuous efforts in vaccinating the tourism workforce. Aligned with the Chamber’s call for improved response against the ongoing pandemic, the Chamber views the DoT’s initiative as proof that vaccination is critical to gradually reopen the sector and the economy. Thus, it will also help bring back the confidence of travelers and businesses.

Megaworld Hotels Group General Manager Cleofe Albiso, C9 Hotelworks Managing Director Bill Barnett, Destination Capital CEO James Caplan, and Marriott International Philippines Multi-Property Vice President Bruce Winton were among the featured speakers in the webinar.