Almost a month after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, one of the first to be hit was the travel industry with airlines struggling with the declining passenger rate and with travel restrictions varying in each country. Flag carrier and Asia’s oldest commercial air company Philippine Airlines (PAL) wasn’t left immune from the impact of the coronavirus crisis as it immediately posted and spread COVID-19 advisories (on its website and through media) for its passengers.
And as the number of infection continue to grow worldwide, all industries are now bent on moving on and shifting into the new normal. Life, and business, has changed and will keep changing definitely should the lockdown be finally eased and should the pandemic be quashed. Safety protocols and screening procedures will definitely be more stringent as things are still generally uncertain and as the world reckons with flattening the curve.
So, too, one imagines will be the amenity kits given away to passengers. The delightful meals and drinks — and yes, even the puke bag — will stay. But definitely, what one will be reading on its in-flight magazines will change.
PAL’s Mabuhay magazine is among those travel publications that are a pure pleasure to read, thanks to its publisher Singapore-based Ink Global, which has been producing the magazine for the country’s 79-year-old airline since July 2016. The striking photographs and insightful feature stories have caught the attention not just of Filipinos but of the publishing business and travel organizations as well. In 2017, its “Going Global” section earned an honorable mention at the Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Awards in New York. In 2018, the magazine also bagged the prestigious journalism award for “Excellence in Arts and Culture Reporting” from the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) Awards 2018.
We did an online interview with its editor, James Ong, a seasoned Filipino journalist who has managed to ramp up the magazine’s content with well-sourced and dynamic articles and visuals — and a lot of hipness factor in between. With the complicated turn of events, and out of my personal curiosity, I asked him about his thoughts on what the next journey (on print and digital) for Mabuhay and the travel business, in general, will be after the coronavirus pandemic.
Let’s read and learn:
Hustle and Chill (H&C): Personally, how do you think travel will look like after coronavirus or the lockdown has been lifted?
James Ong (JO): Viruses have been around for thousands of years but they have never stopped humans from roaming the Earth, so it’s safe to assume that we will continue to travel long after this coronavirus has found its last host. What will it look like after COVID-19? Even before this global public health crisis blew up this year, there has been a growing number of ethical travelers — those who factor in human rights and environment protection when choosing a destination or establishment to visit — and we have been producing each issue of Mabuhay with them in mind. I foresee sustainable tourism gaining even more traction. In addition, people resurfacing from self-isolation will also be looking for places where hosts connect with guests on a personal level.
H&C: How can travel influencers on social media encourage people to travel at least around the Philippines?
JO: Influencers have already helped the local tourism industry so much, bless them! Moving forward, instead of just telling their followers what destinations to visit based on the beautiful sceneries, they can include a social responsibility angle and provide people deeper reasons to visit a place. It could be to help revive its economy or support its communities.
H&C: Travel publications, websites and vlogs are not only informative but also aspirational and often an escape or diversion. It’s always therapy to look at nice places! In your years of experience as an editor and journalist, what content do you see should be created after coronavirus?
JO: At the end of the day, we all travel to escape, so we will continue writing about destinations that offer something new and unique. But we also want to make sure that the time and money you spend is not going to hurt the environment or exploit people. If social distancing has taught us anything, it’s that a single individual has the power to stop — or continue — how something is spread. In the post-COVID-19 world, we all bear the responsibility of promoting sustainable tourism.
H&C: What can we expect in your upcoming issues? We’re super curious.
JO: We hope to release our latest issue as soon as the flight ban is lifted. We will be featuring domestic destinations and put the spotlight on individuals who are making such a huge difference during this ongoing crisis. We have a story about how luxury hotels in Manila are taking the speakeasy cocktail bar concept to new heights, a weekend in Boracay and a guide to wildlife tourism around the world. It’s safe to say that promoting local destinations will be our priority the rest of the year, as we are serious about helping the travel and tourism industry — the largest sector in the Philippines — get back on its feet.
H&C: Let’s end this slam book-style. What’s your favorite quote about travel? And why?
JO: I don’t have a travel quote off the top of my head, but I think the words of the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño (in his book 2666) about cooking is applicable to how we should travel in the future: “You have to change. You have to turn yourself around and change. You have to know how to look even if you don’t know how or what you’re looking for.”