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Kick-start Tourism by Promoting Staycations and Domestic Travel

Date Published
June 26, 2020

Top destinations in the BIMP-EAGA subregion include Honda Bay in Palawan province in the Philippines, where island-hopping and ecotourism tours provide livelihood to local communities. Photo credit: Ariel Javellana/Asian Development Bank.

A strategy that focuses on the domestic market may be the most practical and doable way to revive the hard-hit tourism industry in the BIMP-EAGA subregion.

Airlines, hotels, and other travel and tourism businesses have been crippled by measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Under a baseline scenario where quarantine measures are removed and travel restrictions eased in the third quarter of 2020, London-based World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates a $3.4 trillion reduction in the sector’s contribution to global GDP and a loss of 121 million jobs this year. If restrictions are not phased out, lost income and jobs can reach $5.5 trillion and 197 million. The Asia–Pacific region is estimated to suffer the biggest losses at $1.1 trillion and 69.3 million in jobs in a baseline scenario for 2020.

First to recover

Countries can start the recovery of the tourism sector by marketing first to domestic travelers. “We recognize the domestic travel will likely restart sooner and more quickly than international travel,” says WTTC Vice-President Tiffany Misrahi at the third Policy Actions for COVID-19 Economic Recovery Dialogue organized and hosted online by the Asian Development Bank on 24 June. “A plan should be in place for marketing activities and incentives that facilitate domestic travel and increase length of stay.”

The series of policy dialogues is offered exclusively to select government officials from Southeast Asia and the People’s Republic of China.

Misrahi cites the tourism promotion campaign, Vietnamese People Travel Viet Nam, that was launched mid-May to introduce quality tourism packages for the domestic market. “Similar efforts have been implemented in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines in parallel with easing travel restrictions.”

She says tourism promotion for the domestic market could include staycation packages and vouchers and incentives for local tourists to explore their countries.

High domestic spend

Since the recovery will likely be led by domestic tourism, BIMP-EAGA countries where a larger proportion of tourism spending comes from local tourists may be able to bounce back faster. Based on WTTC data, domestic tourism accounted for 56% of total tourism receipts of Brunei Darussalam in 2019 while its share in Indonesia is at 58% and in the Philippines, even higher at 85%.

At the policy dialogue, Philippine Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat shares that the domestic market has driven tourism recovery in the country in the past. She says Boracay, ranked as one of the world’s best island destinations, was partially opened to tourists from Western Visayas last week. Tourism establishments and tourists must adhere strictly to health, safety, and sanitation protocols, which include physical distancing.

Four phases toward tourism recovery

Misrahi discussed a phased approach toward reviving and building resilience in the tourism industry. She says many countries are currently in the first phase, which is crisis management. Policy measures should protect livelihoods and provide fiscal and financial support, including to the informal sector, as well as support the sector’s compliance with travel bans.

The second phase involves restarting the travel and tourism sector, which entails coordination, prioritization and implementation of relief measures, removal of restrictions, and the definition of new protocols and metrics toward greater sustainability.

The third phase is to regain the trust and confidence of tourists and travelers, starting with the domestic market, by offering quality products and services, competitive pricing, fair cancellation policies, increased communication and transparency, and a safe and seamless travel experience. These will require implementing enabling policies.

The fourth and last phase is redesigning travel and tourism for the “new normal.” The COVD-19 pandemic has changed the market’s needs and expectations, particularly in terms of public health and safety. This includes adopting new technologies, such as biometrics, to reduce physical contact and improve ease and convenience.