Smartphone technology is being harnessed to restart and reinvigorate the Philippines’ travel and tourism industry, which has been almost in total lockdown as the rest of the country because of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) launched recently the smartphone application Travel Philippines that would put in the travelers’ palms all the information they needed to plan for trips for leisure and pleasure. The travel app would give users access to the latest travel advisories and safety guidelines in various destinations that had reopened to tourists. It would allow users to create itineraries for future trips, find up-to-date information on popular tourist attractions, and securely store digital copies of travel documents.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said during the launch, “The shift to digital [technology] is crucial to the success of the [travel and tourism] industry.”
Although the DOT and TPB would not set revenue targets for the boost to domestic tourism expected from the new app, recent media reports underscored just how badly the travel and tourism industry needed a shot in the arm, with foreign tourist arrivals virtually reduced to trickles. Tourist receipts reportedly dropped by almost 80 percent, 79.7 percent, in the first 10 months of the year. From P398.93 billion recorded during the same period last year, this year’s income is down to P81.05 billion. Between April, when strict COVID-19 quarantine protocols were in effect in many parts of the country, and October, the DOT said no tourist spending was recorded.
The DOT said there were no tourist arrivals from April to October because international tourists were not allowed into the country.
With people from other countries still facing travel constraints not just because of local requirements but also health protocols in their own countries as COVID-19 cases continue to surge globally, TPB is hoping the new app will at least boost local travel and tourism.
“The first goal of Travel Philippines is to encourage domestic travel,” TPB said. But knowing that many people still had fears about traveling, it added “we made sure that this application functions in a way that would assist the tourist in his/her journey, from the dreaming stage (awareness) to the exploration/discovery stage (consideration), and finally to the purchasing stage (decision).”
The app, developed by home-grown inclusion technology venture builder Himo Global Inc. (“himo” is a Visayan word that means to make or create) will feature photos and articles to introduce and/or remind people of popular tourist destinations, aside from providing assistance in the planning and preparation for and during the trip itself. It will answer frequently asked questions, provide destination guidelines and will eventually have a booking platform.
The most important consideration in developing the app, TPB said, was to make sure travelers felt safe wherever they went and would be equipped with the right information to help them make wise decisions.
Romulo-Puyat said, “With the ever-changing needs and challenges in travel brought about by the pandemic, Travel Philippines will help both domestic and international tourists have safer and more memorable travel experiences amid our new normal.”
Winston Damarillo, Himo president and chief executive officer of Talino Venture Labs, described Travel Philippines as a “progressive app” that would continue to evolve. It would also work anywhere in all known devices and browsers. Best of all, the app could be accessed even when the user was offline or without Internet connection.
TPB chief operating officer Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones said the app was designed to serve users’ end to end needs.
Even if travelers were to lose their phones to thieves or other causes, they could still view their saved Travel Philippines files by logging in to their personal accounts. If a mobile phone was stolen, TPB said the owner should immediately change his/her account password.
For its initial run, Travel Philippines features six major tourist destinations that have eased COVID-19 community quarantines. The destinations were chosen in consultation with local governments that “were the first to express their willingness to reopen to local tourists and were active in coordinating with the DOT on how to do it safely,” TPB said.
New destinations will be added in coordination with local governments and in consultation with regional tourism officers.
The Travel Philippines app will be regularly updated not only to provide the latest basic travel information about these destinations but also the latest health and safety protocols, both local and national.
Travel Philippines features a built-in itinerary maker that integrates catalogues of tourist attractions, local restaurants and accommodation establishments. Using an encrypted platform, the app will allow users to upload into their personal accounts digital copies of pertinent documents such as boarding passes, hotel reservations and medical certificates that they can access even without an Internet connection. —CONTRIBUTED
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