Aiming to lure back international tourists to their shores, Indonesia and the Philippines are brushing up on offerings to visitors while making sure the sector recovers safely.
Like their neighbors in Southeast Asia, the two BIMP-EAGA countries are lifting quarantine rules for fully vaccinated international travelers. They want to revive their travel sector after the industry stalled in 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. In the BIMP-EAGA subregion alone, arrivals plunged 76% and tourism receipts shrank 79.1% to $6.2 billion.
Now, Indonesia and the Philippines are cautious in allowing tourists back in, making sure health protocols are in place to protect both tourists and industry workers and prioritizing quality over quantity in the kind of travelers they welcome.
“Things are definitely looking prospective although we need to still be very cautious. We will take incremental baby steps. We want to make sure that this is going to be sustainable. It’s going to be gradual,” said Indonesia Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno at the Asian Development Bank’s third Southeast Asia Development Symposium (SEADS) held 16–17 March.
At the virtual forum, which may still be viewed online, he said Indonesia continues to monitor COVID-19 cases ahead of the G20 Summit in November which the Southeast Asian country is hosting. “We want to make sure we don’t make any slight room for error. We need to make sure that the pandemic is handled and we keep the number of cases low.”
Testing and tracing continues to be the focus, he said, which government does through the Peduli Lindungi or “care to protect” app. The app helps government in contact tracing and relies on community participation to track people’s location. Users will be notified if they are in a crowd or in a red zone, which is an area or village with residents infected with the virus. The app also serves as a vaccination registry so it may be used to present vaccination certificates to authorities.
The Philippines has also prioritized putting in place health protocols to keep travelers and tourist workers safe.
In her keynote speech at SEADS 2022, Philippine Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, said the industry’s safe recovery is part of the country’s tourism response to the pandemic. This entails implementing guidelines that ensure tourism stakeholders comply with the protocols and precautionary measures set by the World Health Organization.
Efforts of the Philippines were rewarded with the Safe Travel Stamp by the World Travel and Tourism Council, a global grouping of tourism stakeholders from both the public and private sector. The Safe Travels Stamp was created for travelers to recognize destinations and businesses around the world that have adopted standardized health and hygiene protocols.
Puyat said the Philippines has also fast-tracked the vaccination of its tourism workers, with 95% of its target already inoculated. In key destinations, which include Coron, El Nido, Puerto Princesa, and San Vicente in Palawan, and Davao City in Mindanao—all part of BIMP-EAGA—100% of tourism workers have been vaccinated. Booster shots are also currently being rolled out.
Both Indonesia and the Philippines are also tweaking offerings and shifting toward sustainable tourism.
Uno said Indonesia is moving away from mass tourism and is now targeting longer-staying tourists. It is also promoting ecotourism and sports tourism as wells as nature and culture to tourists. “We’re moving away from quantity. We’re focusing on quality and sustainability.”
Steven Schipani, principal tourism industry specialist at ADB’s Southeast Asia Department, has urged Southeast Asian countries to consider targeting longer-staying tourists because they tend to spend more on locally produced goods and services, which has positive economic knock-on effects. Increasing the availability and consumption of local products by fewer but longer-staying visitors can also shorten supply chains and reduce negative environmental externalities—two critical factors for building destination resilience and sustainability.
Puyat said the Philippines is also working to make tourism more sustainable. She said it is conducting carrying capacity studies with other agencies and studying conservation financing measures in nature destinations. It also wants to raise the number of internationally recognized heritage sites and is working with ASEAN in including Philippine tours in nature-based tourism packages.
She said the pandemic provided the government an opportunity “to rethink tourism for the future” as it draws up the sector’s 6-year plan. “The new plan must inspire a visitor experience that is richer, deeper, and more authentic while at the same time, more competitive, and more Filipino.”
She said the tourism department is working with ADB to help communities transform toward resilient, inclusive, and sustainable tourism. This entails helping micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises in the sector widen their reach through online marketing, expanding sustainable consumption and production campaigns, and raising the skills capabilities and quality of their products.
ADB has just set up a facility to help Southeast Asian countries shift to sustainable tourism. The Southeast Asia Sustainable Tourism Hub aims to help countries develop and finance innovative tourism projects, build destination management capacity, and provide knowledge solutions that align with the ADB Strategy 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.