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COVID-19: The future of local travel

So where do we go from here?

Tourism, just like the luxury industry, has been one of the sectors most heavily affected by the pandemic. Things look to be at a standstill, at least for now. Still, there’s an emerging movement that seeks a path to recovery. 

The future of local travel was the focus of an online conference called Bootstrapping Philippine Tourism: Recalibrating Our Priorities During and After COVID-19. Involving some of the key personalities in the Philippine tourism industry, the forum talked about which directions local travel could take next. And while things might seem restrictive as they stand, the future of the entire tourism sector relies on what happens from here. 

According to Dr. Maria Cherry Lyn Rodolfo—adjunct faculty of the Asian Institute of Management and Advisory Board Member of the Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism Research—local tourism could be the entry point toward the tourism industry’s recovery. And this makes a lot of sense. With foreign travel currently on shaky ground and with many countries still imposing stringent measures against the ongoing pandemic, people aren’t looking to cross international borders just yet.

Yet people do want to travel, and not just for leisure, either. Business travel is sometimes unavoidable, since not everything can be left up to a Zoom call. 

So what could the shape of local travel look like? What will we need to become mobile again? These are the questions that the conference sought to answer, and here’s what the speakers recommend:

Make it a better place

The old mantra of travel was “First, do no harm.” And what this means is that when you visit a place, you must leave it the way you saw it, so it can go on the way it always has. But during these times, with the threat of COVID-19 still looming ahead, most places have been thrown into an uncertain future.

Milette Zamora, Marketing Consultant for the Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism Research, suggests that instead of simply doing no harm, we actively make an effort to help the places we go to. 

Perhaps by donating to a local fund or even bringing extra masks or other supplies for the locals who are running short, we can help in this regard. Even the smallest contributions could amount to something substantial as long as enough travelers adopt the mindset. Now, more than ever, a place’s survival depends not only on the people who live in the location: it will likely need the help of travelers who visit it as well.  And if we’re all looking to travel again, then think of it as paying forward.

Embrace Global Standards and Protocols

More than anything, safety is the main concern of travelers at this time. So how can local tourism make sure that they can keep their visitors safe? According to Aileen Clemente, the chairman and president of Rajah Travel Corporation, we can embrace global standards and protocols.

The World Travel and Tourism Council has released a series of documents detailing their suggested protocols for the new normal. They cover everything from airport health and safety, to the hospitality industry, to local attractions, and even outdoor shopping. While they recognize that these are not perfect guarantees, they do take into account the current WHO and CDC guidelines.  

Having such systems in place would not only help contain the spread of the coronavirus, but would also earn the confidence of travelers. And sure, wearing masks and observing social distancing might change the experience of a place, but doing this now assures that we will get to visit these places again in the future. 

Embrace new technology to allow contract tracing and testing

Aileen Clemente also suggests that we take testing and technology into account when we think of traveling. 

Testing has become one of the cornerstones in fighting the pandemic. Identifying where and to whom the virus has spread will be instrumental in containing it and treating those who have been affected by it. Because the more we know, the more we and the relevant organizations can react to keep everyone safe. 

In the same way that the medical industry is working on a vaccine, the technology sector is likewise developing ways to make contact tracing much easier. Ireland’s COVID tracker app, for example, is a novel use of tech to fight the pandemic. 

The app tracks whoever the user comes in contact with and the devices exchange unique codes. If one user contracts the disease and updates their status, the app sends alerts to the people the user came in contact with. All of this is done anonymously, so there’s little fear of stigma, enabling users to become responsible for themselves and the community as a whole. The use of similar technology could pave the way for a safer local travel environment.

We need to learn from the past

Outbreaks of infectious diseases have happened before, and it is from these experiences that the travel industry must learn from. While SARS and the H1N1 virus may not have reached the same magnitude as the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still practices and solutions that can be learned from their eventual containment. 

Right now, tourism faces a difficult situation, and it’s one that involves the entire world. But more than likely, we’ll see it in a different light as the struggle to solve the pandemic continues. And what’s even more likely is that some parts of it will take on a new form. 

“It’s just a change, not a death,” Aileen Clemente says. “It may be the death of an old model but it will not be the end of tourism.”