As soon as the fireworks and the cheers at the onset of the year quieted down, hopes for a fruitful 2020 were held high, as we normally would. However, nobody expected a global pandemic would shut everything down. The explosion of COVID-19 has affected all industries. But, at the onset, in particular, has been badly hurt by it: tourism.

/ 27 July 2020

As tradition would call it, when 2020 rolled around, we welcomed it with open arms as we would any new year, ushered in by fireworks and cheers. However, nobody expected a global pandemic to shut everything down and force people to be locked within their homes. In the Philippines, for over four months, the wrath of COVID-19 has since shown its reach to all industries, yet, one in particular has been directly hit by it, from the get-go: travel and tourism.

It has become normal for people to plan their vacations months ahead in anticipation of seat sales or a bid to escape the tourist-heavy months. Long-term planning also allows employees to notify their employers in advance to make up for their absence while students carefully plot taking vacations with family and friends during days or weeks when there are no classes.

However, all of these trips outside the Philippines, at this point, have been pushed back, possibly all the way to next year. Business trips, in general, may have just changed forever with the rise in popularity of platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams as what was then thought to be essential face-to-face meetings between people in different countries can now be held virtually.

A service that has risen in popularity over the past five years is vacation online rental marketplace, Airbnb. The business model opened doors to a more intimate and authentic experience at a cost that is lower than an actual hotel booking. Yet with COVID-19, everything changed overnight. Planes were not allowed to fly. People were holed in their homes. Thus, bookings were canceled.

Imagine taking those entrance tests for institutions outside the country, from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), and other essential exams with the mindset of studying abroad. Those plans have all been placed on hold, with little to know idea on when everything would return to regular programming.

Several events, conventions, and conferences that are held in the Philippines annually have been inevitably canceled or postponed—some even bringing in foreign speakers and resource persons in their respective industries, inevitably drawing attention to our shores.

On the other end of the spectrum, those who have not canceled, have instead chosen to go the virtual route via Facebook Live, Zoom, or other video conferencing platforms to reach their target audiences instead—the inevitable, more feasible destination organizers have undertaken to augment revenues usually raked in by sign-ups, reservation fees, and advertising.

Philippine domestic tourism has undoubtedly taken a massive hit because of this pandemic. After Boracay was shut down in an attempt to repair some of the island’s resources from April to October 2018, the once-majestic isle slowly reopened to the public. Tourists, both foreign and domestic, have started to book stays in the world-famous destination in Aklan. But just as it tried to re-establish itself as a primary tourist destination, the unseen enemy has effectively scuttled those plans.

The eruption of Taal Volcano in January of this year served as a warning that nature would not be controlled or dictated to. Forty-three years after its last eruption, the volcano in scenic Tagaytay spewed fire and ash across Central Luzon for approximately a week. Tourists who had been visiting Tagaytay for the past four decades were turned away and people who had planned weddings and receptions in nearby resorts faced a sudden change of plans. Little did anyone know that this explosion would be a harbinger of how difficult the rest of 2020 would be.

But as the bleak reality settles in, there’s no denying that the human adaption to a new way of life is, and will be, the only way to go in navigating this unprecedented situation. As such, “new normal” is no longer just a buzzword, but a directive to a major lifestyle shift that goes beyond masks, and handwashing routines—one that we all have to adapt and subscribe in to see this pandemic through.