Philippines tour operator fights virus 'stigma' against Asians

Eah Antonio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 25 2020 08:56 AM

Commuters wearing protective masks walk inside the MRT subway in Bangkok, Thailand Feb. 24, 2020. Chalinee Thirasupa, Reuters

MANILA -- Southeast Asian tour operators should work to remove the stigma attached to Asians due to the coronavirus outbreak, the head of one of the Philippines' main travel agencies said.

The tourism industry will need at least a year to recover from COVID-19, which slowed demand for air travel as some countries closed their borders to China, where the virus was first detected, said Rajah Travel Corp President and Chairman Aileen Clemente.

Southeast Asians should make "clarifications" on hygiene practices and efforts to halt the spread of the virus, she said in an exclusive interview with Cathy Yang for ANC's The Boss.

Beijing reported some 2,500 deaths due to COVID-19, with the number of confirmed cases nearing the 77,000-mark. Italy tallied 7 deaths and 220 infections while the number of confirmed cases in South Korea rose to 833.

"We're actually stigmatized as Asians. So whether it's China or us, they're just called Asians and that's why they're trying to ensure there's a call for non-stigmatization of this area," Clemente said.

A travel ban affects bookings up to 8 months, she said.

Rajah Travel Corp President and Chairman Aileen Clemente speaks to ANC's Cathy Yang for The Boss

Clemente said she was optimistic the Philippines could meet or surpass its goal of 10 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2022 with the opening of new airports and with measures against COVID-19 in place.

"It's a matter of are we doing the right strategies to attract investments to come in, to attract tourists to come in. Are they coming here for the right reasons? Is it just the beach or are we concentrating on culture and heritage which is a big chunk that not a lot of people are concentrating on," she said.