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The Tourism Promotions Board, the marketing and promotions arm of the Department of Tourism, held what is touted to be the biggest government-organized travel trade event in the Philippines at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone

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Acea Beach Resort at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone served as venue for the Philippine Travel Exchange.

The Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the marketing and promotions arm of the Department of Tourism (DoT), recently held what is touted as the biggest government-organized travel trade event in a “hybrid” format.

The Philippine Travel Exchange (Phitex) showed how tourism trade and promotions are conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic and possibly beyond, as well as the optimism for Philippine tourism.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat (third from left) graced the opening and the press conference of Phitex. / PhotographS by Roel Hoang Manipon for the daily tribune

“Phitex allows participants to build strong partnerships, expand their network and share information on the latest developments and trends in both the local and international travels,” explained Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.

“We believe this will be an excellent opportunity for all those involved to learn about our latest tourism product developments, and how we recalibrate them to suit the demands of travelers in the new normal. Through Phitex, we aim to show our partners around the world that when international borders reopen and travel restrictions are eventually eased, the Philippines will be prepared and more than excited to bring back the fun safely and responsibly,” she said during the opening program.

The event, now on its 20th edition, was held from 19 to 23 September at the Acea Subic Beach Resort in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, a former American naval base straddling the provinces of Zambales and Bataan.

The al-fresco venue of the Phitex opening and closing programs with a view of Subic Bay.

It drew 156 sellers, 33 of which were onsite and 123 virtual, and 122 buyers from 33 countries.

On its second day, Phitex bookd 1,258 business-to-business (B2B) appointments with a projected revenue of P107.9 million.

Pivoting
The first hybrid Phitex was held in 2020 in Panglao, Bohol, one of the first tourism destinations to reopen amid the pandemic.

“Last year’s Phitex was about pivoting as we had to face the challenges of going hybrid and leveraging on technology more than ever to conduct our business. Thankfully, it was a resounding success, so we are very much excited to pick up where we left off, but with a clearer perspective this time around because we are no longing adjusting. We are about moving forward and making significant decisions that will create a better normal for the industry,” TPB chief operating officer Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones said.

performance from the Sinukuan Festival during the Phitex opening program.

“We are proud to say that the event last year was a resounding success, for even though our participants were not there physically, they were still able to close important deals and keep the Philippines on the world travel map,” Puyat said.

The event, which included virtual B2B sessions, online games and quizzes, and a virtual tour of Manila, established 3,946 contacts, generated 1,205 leads and secured 76 on-site bookings with a projected revenue of over P42 million.

“The Bohol Phitex is testament that traveling even during the pandemic is possible and even fun as long as the prescribed guidelines are strictly observed,” Puyat added.

For 2021, Phitex highlighted TPB’s strategic marketing plan for the “new normal” through its theme.

“This year, the event banners the theme, ‘Beyond Business, Co-creating Safe, Smart and Sustainable Tourism.’ This is a timely and relevant topic, as we realize that our considerations have been altered by the adverse impact of the pandemic in our industry,” Puyat commented. “In a way, there is a positive shift in perspective. Appreciating that why we do business for the purpose of profit, we are equally mindful of the need to put importance on the health and safety of our traveling guests, and the sustainability of our destinations and socio-cultural heritage.”

The author enjoying the El Kabayo tour with a hat made of bilwa leaf.

Shifts, changes
Puyat said that there are shifts and changes brought by the pandemic, and the tourism industry is responding to them.

“While the Philippines certainly boasts its fair share of tourism attractions…these are no longer enough to guarantee a steady stream of visitors with the ‘new normal.’ Safety has become the number-one concern of today’s travelers, and it’s something that the Department of Tourism, our partners in government and all Philippine tourism stakeholders have carefully taken into consideration when we began the difficult task of plotting the recovery of the industry,” she explained.

“As a result, many of our tourism products have been recalibrated and refined to cater to the shifting demands of the ‘new normal.’ In a sense, you could also say that tourism has become smarter. With the rapid adoption of digital technology, which has profoundly changed the way tourism operates today.”

She continued: “Just a few years ago, who would have thought that events on this scale could be successfully held on a digital platform? This is just one of the many ways that we’ve innovated and adapted the era of digital transactions. But despite the large-scale pivot of tourism operations to online platforms, I can assure you that future visitors to the country will be able to experience that high-caliber service and unrivaled warmth and hospitality that Filipinos have become renowned for.”

A beetle larva, which is part of the diet of the Magbukon Ayta, gathered by the local guide during the El Kabayo tour.

Sustainable
travel agenda
Puyat added that sustainable tourism development “is at the core of everything we do” as tourism adapts to the new situation.

Phitex 2020’s onsite events included welcome dinner and closing dinner programs at the seaside lawn of the venue, attended by travel agents and stakeholders, and streamed through online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, and post-event tours to the attractions of Subic Freeport Zone including Grande Island, the Lighthouse Marina Resort, the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail and the El Kabayo forest hike to the waterfalls.

The latter two destinations were annotated by the indigenous Magbukun Ayta and Ambala Ayta residents who shared aspects of their traditional culture such as food and knowledge of the forests.

The tourism event also had an education component comprising webinars and discussions, which included “Tourism Jobs in the New Reality” by Dr. Giovanni Francis Legaspi; “The Sustainable Travel Agenda” discussion with Dr. Randi Alampay, Dr. Danielle Guillen and Raf Dionisio; “Circular Economy and Carbon Footprint in Philippine Tourism” by Eric Raymundo; and “Tourism Marketing: Digital Platform and Social Media” by Dr. Marice Gatchalian-Badilla.

“As you all look forward to traveling again, we value important lessons that the pandemic taught us. For one, it’s no longer enough to have the best destinations, because you must also ensure, first and foremost, that they are safe. Secondly, tourism in the ‘new normal’ has to become smarter, which means that guided by digital technology, tourists can have a more personalized or customizable travel experience,” Puyat reiterated.

“We have taken steps to ensure that the programs we initiate now will drive, not only our recovery now, but keep Philippine tourism viable in the many years to come,” she related. “When we held the first hybrid edition of Phitex last year, there was still a great amount of uncertainty over how long the pandemic would last. Now, I believe, we have a clearer view particularly as life in many places around the globe is slowly getting back to normal, thanks to high rates of vaccination and adherence to public health and safety protocols. The Philippines is heading in that direction.”

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