The State of Tourism in the Philippines
By Euan S. Limon
It has been over a year since the COVID-19 virus infected the world. The pandemic shook every nation, bringing mass trauma far worse than the Second World War, as the World Health Organization stated (IANS, 2021). Like other countries, the Philippines suffered tremendously from the restrictions the pandemic caused. Within the sectors suffering from these restrictions in the tourism industry. The tourism industry contributes nearly 13% towards the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2019 (Philippine News Agency, 2020). With a sector this big, how much was it affected by the pandemic?
According to the Department of Tourism (2021), visitor spending from visitor receipts in 2020 was only PHP 82.84 billion. Visitor receipts, also known as Tourism receipts, are expenditures from international inbound visitors (Knoema, n.d.). These expenditures include fees for national carriers in charge of transport, prepaid goods/services to be received in the visiting country, and on occasion, any receipts from same-day visitors. Visitor receipts plummeted by 82.94%, as 2019 tallied PHP 482.15 billion. Visitor receipts in January 2020 clocked in at PHP 45.35 billion, a 5.22% increase from January 2019.
What seemed like a good start was immediately put to a stop in less than a month when February 2020 only reached PHP 25.95 billion, a 42.80% decline compared to February 2019. March 2020 saw its decrease in visitor receipts nearly double, only amassing PHP 7.31 billion at an 82.65% drop. The remaining visitor receipts of 2020 consistently fell by almost 100% compared to the previous year – failing to reach the billion mark for the rest of 2020.
Figure 1 shows the contrast in the Philippines’ monthly visitor receipts during 2019 and 2020. The Philippines’ visitor receipts reached their peak in January 2020 and were the only month to outperform its 2019 predecessor. The monthly visitor receipts fell terribly during the early stages of quarantine, notably April 2020. It took until September 2020 for the monthly visitor receipts to rise constantly.
Figure 1: Philippines’ Monthly Visitors Receipts for 2019 and 2020 (in Billion PHP). Taken from http://www.tourism.gov.ph/industry_performance/2020/VisitorReceiptsReport2020.pdf
DOT (2021) also reported only 1,482,535 inbound visitors arrived in the Philippines. Visitors dropped at 82%, compared to the growing 8,260,913 inbound visitors in 2019. Like the country’s visitor receipts in January 2020, inbound visitors increased compared to January 2019 as it reached 796,164 visitors, a 10.06% increase. The decline also started in February 2020, where inbound visitors only recorded 462,681, a decrease of 39.67% compared to February 2019.
The Philippine government then imposed a travel ban halfway through March 2020 for inbound foreign visitors. Overseas Filipinos, foreign spouses or children, permanent resident visa owners, and diplomat visa owners were the only ones permitted to enter the country until August. Foreigners with long-term visas and former Filipinos were then allowed to enter the country, which yielded an influx of inbound visitors by the end of the year.
Figure 2 compares the monthly inbound visitor arrivals the Philippines had during 2019 and 2020. The monthly inbound visitor arrivals are directly related to the monthly visitor receipts from Figure 1 – with January 2020 having the highest number of visitors in both years. Inbound visitor arrivals dropped as 2020 went on due to heavy lockdown, with April reaching not more than a thousand inbound visitor arrivals. It took until September 2020 for inbound visitor arrivals to rise constantly until the end of the year.
Figure 2: Philippines’ Monthly Inbound Visitor Arrivals for 2019 and 2020. Taken from http://www.tourism.gov.ph/industry_performance/2020/VisitorArrivalsReport2020.pdf
The people in the tourism industry greatly suffered from the restrictions brought by the pandemic. In a survey conducted by PWC Philippines (2020) towards tourism-related businesses, most of their 247 respondents were forced to temporarily stop offering their products/services due to lockdown restrictions and a lack of demand for their products/services. Nearly 44% of these tourism-related businesses had to reduce their operations and lay off their employees to adapt during the pandemic.
The tourism industry is indeed essential for the country’s economy. Besides the fact the industry contributed 13% to the Philippines’ GDP in 2019, the industry also houses nearly 10.24 million employees as of 2019 (Statista Research Department, 2021). It would inevitably be affected negatively by the pandemic, given it is an industry that contains roughly 9% of the country’s population. The restrictions that come along with the pandemic prevents tourists from visiting the country. The industry suffers, as mentioned since it heavily relies on tourist traffic.
Numerous steps have been taken to promote relief towards the industry. Accommodations like hotels currently serve as isolation facilities for people undergoing mandatory quarantines. DOT commended hotels for this action, as hotels earn during the pandemic while providing isolation rooms (ABS-CBN News, 2021). DOT has also demanded the vaccine czar prioritize tourism workers in the A4 priority list (Arnaldo, 2021). Hotel and airport staff are the only ones included in the priority list, as of the moment.
The tourism industry would most certainly benefit the most from the vaccination of tourism workers. Their vaccination allows protection for the workers while they work. However, the industry’s condition would still depend mainly on tourists willing to visit the country. With the number of cases growing steadily every day, it would be challenging to convince tourists to travel to the Philippines. The country’s overall safety needs prioritization first before the country convinces foreign tourists to travel in the country.
The country’s tourism industry has a long road ahead to recovery from the setback the pandemic brought. Accounting for its PHP 317 billion loss for 2020 (Tabios, 2020) and a stricter lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, it might take some time for the industry to regain its footing and return to the old normal.
ABS-CBN News. (2021, April 06). DOT says 24 hotels turn 2,442 rooms into isolation facilities. https://news.abs-cbn.com/business/04/06/21/dot-says-24-hotels-turn-2442-rooms-into-isolation-facilities
Arnaldo, M. F. (2021, March 31). DOT urges vaccine Czar to include more Tourism workers in A4 priority list. Business Mirror. https://businessmirror.com.ph/2021/03/31/dot-urges-vaccine-czar-to-include-more-tourism-workers-in-a4-priority-list/
Department of Tourism. (2021). VisitorArrivalsReport2020 [PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.tourism.gov.ph/industry_performance/2020/VisitorArrivalsReport2020.pdf
Department of Tourism. (2021). VisitorReceiptsReport2020 [PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.tourism.gov.ph/industry_performance/2020/VisitorReceiptsReport2020.pdf
IANS. (2021, March 06). COVID-19 caused more mass trauma than World War 2: WHO. National Herald. https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/international/covid-19-caused-more-mass-trauma-than-world-war-2-who
Knoema. (n.d.). International tourism receipts. https://knoema.com/atlas/ranks/Tourism-receipts#:~:text=What%20is%20tourism%20receipts%3F,received%20in%20the%20destination%20country.
Philippine News Agency. (2020, June 22). Tourism industry hikes share in GDP to 13%. https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1106568
PwC Philippines. (2020, July). Impact of COVID-19 on the Philippine Tourism industry. https://www.pwc.com/ph/en/publications/tourism-pwc-philippines/tourism-covid-19.html
Statista Research Department. (2021, April 07). Travel and tourism’s direct contribution to employment APAC 2019 by country. https://www.statista.com/statistics/313632/travel-and-tourisms-direct-contribution-to-employment-in-asia-pacific-countries/
Tabios, H. (2020, November 12). PH tourism industry lost P317-B from Jan to Oct 2020. Manila Bulletin. https://mb.com.ph/2020/11/12/ph-tourism-industry-lost-p317-b-from-jan-to-oct-2020/