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Travel’s back, hopefully for good

ith many travel restrictions being eased already after months of being under a very stringent community quarantine, many Filipinos are being bit by another virus — the travel bug, that is.

Since the Department of Tourism (DoT) made its initial announcements in coordination with the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) on the management of emerging diseases, Pinoy wanderers are already raring to travel to reopened paradise destinations like Boracay, Batangas, Tagaytay and Bohol, among others.

For members of the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association (HSMA), this development just seems like the proverbial cherry on the cake. After all, the group of hoteliers never stopped crusading and promoting the country even when the Philippines underwent a lockdown.

In May, for instance, the group organized the first-ever online Great Room Sale offering discounts for as much as 60 to 70 percent. The move, of course, was perceived as brave by travelers and industry insiders as traveling is considered farthest from one’s priorities at the time.

But trust the dogged determination of the energetic HSMA members to be the country’s very own cheerleaders as the Great Room Sale proved to be such a hit.

Then, in December, as a tribute to the resilience of their peers in the tourism and hospitality industry, the group will be holding its acclaimed Virtus Awards. Now on its sixth year, the recognition is a prestigious platform for industry practitioners to celebrate their valuable contributions not just in their respective business but in national building as well.

In a recent interview in Daily Tribune’s Pairfect Facebook live show, two of its unflagging officers, HSMA chair Margarita Munsayac and president Christine Ibarreta shared that despite the initial economic shock brought by the pandemic, things are starting to brighten up in the tourism sector.

Still more fun

According to Munsayac, “Definitely, it’s going to be more fun in the Philippines. As mentioned before, after being cooped up for seven months, everyone is itching to go out, get the sea breeze and get that ‘vitamin sea.’ You want to go out and enjoy. And HSMA gives you the opportunity to plan and make your dream vacation a reality.”

Ibarreta admitted that days before they launched their virtual sales, the group realized that it was a risk. But it paid off eventually. She confessed, “At first we were afraid but on day one, we had as much as 100 vouchers sold. The bestsellers were properties in Pasay and Boracay, which reopens in October, the Visayas, BGC (Bonifacio Global City) and South of Manila. Buyers were so excited to get these vouchers.”

Ibarreta said that aside from the Philippines, the highest sales came from the United States, Singapore, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. She surmised, “These countries are where our kababayans have migrated to and who availed themselves of the e-vouchers because these are valid for one year (anyway). So, it’s for Christmas gifts or for themselves for when travel is allowed. Something that they can give away.”

But, of course, health protocols as prescribed by the IATF and DoT will still be followed, explained Munsayac, “Disinfection remains an important part of the hotel’s operations, social distancing will still be observed, and travelers will have to avail themselves of local tours because they can’t just move around on their own. But all of these are to ensure that our tourists continue to keep safe while they practically enjoy their stay in their favorite destinations, just like before.”

Ongoing journey

Munsayac and Ibarreta, two vibrant and accomplished hoteliers, admit that despite the sunny outlook among their peers, the pandemic was really unprecedented. Not even their experience in last January’s Taal Volcano eruption, which heavily affected business in the South, had prepared them for this crisis.

According to Ibarreta, “No one was prepared for this but we have an indomitable spirit. We were trained by our mentors. They told us, ‘We have these challenges but along the way this is a journey for us. And the journey goes on.’ We have to maintain our laser focus and continue being on top of things.

“For now, we have to survive and later on we can be better, situations will be better. I believe that Philippine tourism and businesses will be better than what we had before. With faith in God, nothing is impossible.”

Munsayac agrees, “With my 40 years in the industry, this is actually the hardest, most challenging. But at the same time, it brought about innovativeness on how to cope and survive and not to give up. As Christine said, we are a very positive kind of people and we believe that there will be an end to this pandemic.”

And this time, true to HSMA’s derring-do spirit, the group is organizing another event, this time an online Hotel Supplier Show that began on 15 to 21 October. Check the HSMA Facebook page or the Shopback link here:

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