Granular tourism

©PhilSTAR Daily, Inc

A regular visitor to Tagaytay told me that the crowd was significantly bigger yesterday morning.

So far, however, he said most of the visitors – on motorcycles and in private cars – seemed to be there mainly for sightseeing. Except for a handful of well-known restaurants, the dining establishments are still struggling or are shuttered for good.

His former regular sources of salted egg and native delicacies remain closed; there is no indication if the closures are permanent.

Now that we’ve seen how much is lost when tourism grinds to a halt, we should also have a greater appreciation of how much the sector, with the livelihoods it generates downstream, can contribute to the economy.

Other countries understand the importance of travel and tourism to their national prosperity, and their policies reflect this. In Southeast Asia, we see it most keenly in Thailand, Vietnam, Bali in Indonesia, and Malaysia. Singapore is too small to offer natural attractions, but it has successfully positioned itself as an international conference destination, with arguably the world’s best international airport.

Countries that rely heavily on tourism earnings usually have the head of government directly calling the shots in the sector. This way, it’s faster and easier to get the cooperation of the heads of government agencies in carrying out policies and programs that benefit the travel industry and its downstream enterprises.

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After seven months of crippling lockdowns, the government has finally allowed travel between areas under general community quarantine and those under modified GCQ.

This is why there was a much larger crowd in Tagaytay over the weekend. The Enchanted Kingdom theme park in Laguna has also reopened.

To encourage more travel within Mega Manila, the government has also allowed more age groups to leave their homes for non-essential travel, and allowed greater capacity in mass transport.

The age restrictions, however, still leave out younger children and the lolos and lolas. So family outings as we know them are still out.

Seven months of lockdowns also made most people aware of the consequences of catching COVID. I think by now, most Filipinos personally know someone who has caught the disease, and fully understand its impact on health, work and finances not just of the infected person but also of other members of the household.

So while people understand the urgent need to revive the economy, increase consumption and resume travel, people have also become reluctant to do what is needed for economic recovery.

Also, there is the problem of millions of people losing their jobs, livelihoods and purchasing power. Consumption remains limited to essential items and services.

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These days my idea of travel is as granular as the new lockdowns being imposed by local governments.

While Metro Manila was under the strictest enhanced community quarantine or ECQ, I managed to indulge my travel bug, thanks to my media pass – by driving the 10.9 kilometers from east to west along the main thoroughfare of my city on my day off.

At the time, all the secondary roads and streets in gated subdivisions were closed. The drive, at a leisurely and fuel-efficient speed to and from my house, took only about half an hour. But I could stretch it to an hour, with stops to buy vegetables and fruits at roadside stalls, and at the smaller outlets of the major supermarket chains (small outlets have no waiting lines).

Today the same drive can take from an hour to an hour and a half, although it’s still not as bad as pre-pandemic traffic. Also, the secondary roads are now open, allowing me to reach my source of fresh oysters, shucked in front of me, quite quickly.

That was my tourism under MECQ: buying oysters in Kawit, Cavite, and raw penoy-balut in Taytay, Rizal through the 6.94-km circumferential Laguna Lake Highway from Bicutan. The pleasant drive along the circumferential road (formerly C-6) can take just 15 minutes.

Last month I went to a food tiangge in Pasay, but there were simply too few people even on a weekend. It was depressing to see so many establishments closed for good. But I bought what I could and was satisfied with my purchases.

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In the coming weeks I intend to travel when my schedule allows it – within Metro Manila. My family moved several times around the city of Manila and I want to revisit the old neighborhoods. If there’s anything interesting that I can buy, I will (it’s Manila; of course there’s a lot to buy everywhere). This will be my contribution to the revival of tourism and the economy. I plan to visit my alma maters in Manila and Diliman, and the haunts of my youth.

This being the ’ber months, I also plan to take my mother on a pre-Yuletide Visita Iglesia of sorts around Metro Manila, even if the churches are still mostly closed. Many vendors depend on church attendance for their livelihood. We can buy flowers and candles for altars and for remembering the dead at home this November. With cemeteries closed, this year’s Undas will be unforgettable.

I’m still wary of dining in, but I’ve been ordering take-out. Others are less praning. Last Saturday during merienda time, my travel bug took me to a neighboring subdivision (just one major thoroughfare away from home), where I bought my favorite burger and dinuguan from Tropical Hut. I was glad to see several tables with people dining in.

I buy hotdog from sidewalk carts and pork barbecue from Nonong my roadside suki beside the shuttered peryahan. It should have been doing brisk pre-holiday business by now.

We all can play a role, as granular as the contribution may be, in reviving travel and tourism.

These days we talk about a whole-of-nation approach to COVID recovery. It applies as well to tourism, today and long after the pandemic is over.