The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with PUBLiCUS Asia, Inc. and the Association of Political Consultants in Asia (APCA), conducted on Tuesday the third COVID-19 Virtual Learning Sessions on the impact of the pandemic on major tourism spots.
Mayor Noel E. Rosal (Legazpi City), Mayor John Geesnell “Baba” Yap II (Tagbilaran City), and Mayor Lucilo Bayron (Puerto Princesa) represented by Councilor Matthew Mendoza shared the strategies their city has applied in addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy of their renowned tourist destinations.
Mr. Rob Joseph of the International City/County Management Association and Mr. Scott Mitnick, City Manager of El Segundo, Los Angeles County also joined the local executives to shed light on what worked in their respective jurisdictions.
Rebuilding the tourism sector
In Legazpi City, the local government has taken the opportunity to enhance tourism facilities. Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions/Events or MICE, a campaign led by the Department of Tourism has significantly contributed to the city’s tourism income. According to Mayor Noel Rosal, the COVID-19 pandemic has given the city an opportunity to strengthen its MICE hosting capabilities.
Accessibility and linkages to existing and potential tourism districts have also been developed in the current period. Mayor Rosal said that under the New Normal, health and safety guidelines are at the center of maintaining tourists’ safety as the city promotes its tourist activities.
Councilor Matthew Mendoza of Puerto Princesa City shared that business owners in the tourism sector have adapted to the current COVID-19 through innovation and the transition to a digital marketplace.
During the community quarantine period, the city focused on strengthening the agriculture and fisheries sector as an alternative option for informal tourism workers who found themselves out of work.
The city’s tourism recovery plan has helped develop business continuity programs for local industries and is currently the basis in the preparation of the tourism sector in the new normal.
The private sector has been active in the repackaging of heritage tours in Tagbilaran City. Mayor John Yap shared that the local government aims to enhance the branding of its heritage tours by working on the different dimensions of the experience.
With TESDA, the downtime has given Tagbilaran City and other cities an opportunity to retool and enhance the capacity- building of tourism human personnel online sessions and webinars as they anticipate the arrival of tourists with the resumption of commercial flights.
Mr. Scott Mitnick shared that the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity for El Segundo City to reorganize itself – something that may have been hard to do in a normal setting. He reported that city management was able to react accordingly and restructure systems in preparation for the economy’s reopening.
Mitnick emphasized that cities should make the most of the current opportunity to come back stronger and more resilient than before.
Preparedness of cities
As cities continue to refine their tourism experiences as quarantine measures lighten up, Mr. Rob Joseph said that messaging and branding is essential in bridging new experiences to visitors. Joseph explained how building goodwill internally and externally could be beneficial in the present and future situations.
Working internally, cities should ensure that the concerns of business owners are heard as they maneuver through this challenging time. Externally, cities that are proactive in ensuring that strategies are properly executed against the pandemic are able to give potential visitors the assurance that the city is safe for travel as quarantine measures are lifted
“Reach out. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Be active and people will remember this when we all go back to normal,” he concluded.
The LGU officials expressed the readiness in catering to tourists in the New Normal. Mendoza said that businesses have been working on contactless payment methods and other strategies to limit physical interaction once tourists come in. Yap and Rosal said that continuous efforts by their local governments in the development of their tourism sectors have made them confident that their cities would be able to attend to the needs of the tourists even with the implementation of health protocols.
The last session of the COVID-19 Virtual Learning will feature insights on COVID-19 testing from Mayor Marcelino Teodoro (Marikina City), Mayor Jerry Trenas (Iloilo City), Mayor Oscar Moreno (Cagayan de Oro City), and the representative of Mayor Beverly Dimacuha (Batangas City). They would be joined by Professor Joaquin Gonzalez III of the Golden Gate University (USA) and Dr. Huong Thi Giang Tran of the World Health Organization – Regional Office for the Western Pacific.
Dr. Ernesto Bontuyan Jr., Project Management Specialist on Infectious Disease of USAID/Philippines, and Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire would also be present in the culminating session.