PH hotels rehiring furloughed workers as tourism begins to recover from pandemic

Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 24 2021 06:02 PM

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The facade of a hotel in Boracay run by the PHINMA Group. ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Philippine tourism industry is slowly rising up from its worst year in recent history as COVID-19 restrictions are eased, allowing hotels to take in more guests and rehire staff who were furloughed or retrenched due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. 

In 2020, the contribution of the battered tourism sector to the country's gross domestic product dropped to 5.4 percent from 12.8 percent in 2019.

According to Philippine Statistics Authority's 2020 Philippine Tourism Satellite Accounts (PTSA) report, inbound tourism (non-resident visitors) fell to P132.59 billion in 2020, which was 77.9 percent lower compared to the previous year’s P600.08 billion.

Domestic tourism expenditure, on the other hand, plunged to P556.89 billion during the COVID-19 crisis, an 82.3 percent decline from 2019’s P3.14 trillion.

The gross value added of accommodation services experienced the most decline in 2020 at -90.3 percent. It was followed by food and beverage services and travel agencies at -87.5 percent and -82.7 percent respectively.

The grim state of the sector upended by the new coronavirus resulted in the job loss of over one million tourism employees.

The eased restrictions of the new Alert Level 2 along with the uptick in the economy, however, gives a glimmer hope, after nearly two years, to Filipinos whose livelihoods were taken away by the pandemic.

Kim Domingo, a sales manager for a hotel chain, was one of the unfortunate employees whose job was affected when the industry hit a near-standstill amid the nationwide lockdown.

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Kim Domingo, a sales manager for a hotel chain says she hopes the tourism sector's recovery will be sustained. ABS-CBN News

"Since we weren't getting any business, we were understandably contacted that our last day of duty will be in July. We weren't exactly terminated, the company continued our benefits but we lost our source of income," she recalled.

While Domingo and her family members all chipped in with the household expenses, she noted next to her father, she was the main breadwinner.

"My father who was a seaman was also let go from work. I worried a lot because our bills were piling up, we don’t know how we would survive," she said.

"In terms of finances, I used up all my savings, it even turned negative because I had to take in loans. We initially thought it would only last for 3 months we didn't think it would take this long," she added.

To make ends meet Domingo had to take part-time jobs.

"In between, I was selling online and I did work from home at a BPO. Somehow it was able to sustain our daily expenses. We are thankful that other companies were very understanding to employees in the tourism sector and were generous with opportunities. I'm thankful also for the support ng company since they gave recommendations and helped us look for work," she explained.

Ron Angeles, the food and beverage service manager of the hotel group's branch in Pasay City, also felt the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

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Ron Angeles, food and beverages manager of a hotel, says he had to do odd jobs to stay afloat during the pandemic. ABS-CBN News

With the health restrictions prohibiting dine-in services, consequently halting the restaurant and bar operations, Angeles found himself jobless.

"It was very sad because the guests are the life of the restaurant. To be able to serve your clients, bukod sa yung physical guest natin pati kasamahan natin, were tasked to leave for a while, yung mga nakasa mo ng matagal alam mo hindi sila makakabalik right away nakakalungkot din siyempre," he shared.

Although Angeles lost his post as a manager, he continued to fulfill odd jobs such as housekeeping and food deliveries at the hotel.

"During that time since limited mga kasama sa work, we did not stop operating. I took on jobs of my employees who could not go to work," he said.

But Christmas for the two will be merrier this year as they are returning to their pre-pandemic roles. 

"I am very excited, talagang pinagpra-pray ko na na sana matawagan na ako. Siyempre, nakaka miss sa industriya na na minahal mo talaga. Namimiss namin yung fully-booked dates, yung sorbing daming workload na aasikasuhin," Domingo mused.

According to Dean Cid, Chief Operating Officer of the PHINMA Hospitality, the business group handling the hotel chain, Domingo and Kim are among the 150 former employees they asked to return this week in anticipation of the influx of guests and customers brought by the eased restrictions.

"Prior to the pandemic, we had 850 employees then we were down to 380 during the pandemic... We welcome the easing of restriction, currently all our properties are Alert Level 2. Hopefully, we will be able to recall more employees," he said.

"Mga kasamahan namin are really looking forward na makabalik sa work at makatulong din not just for them but for their family and also for the company," Angeles chimed in.

A year after coronavirus restrictions were first imposed, the Philippines has been opening up tourism destinations to help drive local travel.

But more recently, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) has also approved the entry of foreign tourists to the Philippines, provided they are from countries on the green list such as Japan, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Taiwan, etc.

"Malaking bagay po para sa ating economic growth and development and the rebound of our economy ang tourism sector. At dahil green list naman po iyan, ibig sabihin nasa green list sila dahil mataas ang vaccination rate po nila doon sa green list country. Tayo rin naman po tumataas ang vaccination rate natin dito sa bansang Pilipinas, bumababa na rin po iyong mga na-infect ng COVID," acting Malacanang palace spokesman Karlo Nograles reasoned.

Relaxed restrictions, however, by no means equates to relaxed safety measures.

Cid emphasized more guests means sterner implementation of health protocols.

"All our staff are fully vaccinated. We also placed hand washers in all hotel entrances, and we provided safety kits to our guests upon entry. We will also continue to enhance all our safety measures," he said.

Cid said they strictly implement these measures in all of their 15 branches, including those located at tourist hotspots such as Boracay and Baguio, where they are expecting more tourists.

He likewise stressed the importance of following IATF guidelines as their livelihood depends heavily on the decline in COVID-19 cases.

"We are not just excited or expecting, we are preparing for the operations na magbalik ulit especially right timing holiday season, there are a lot of inquiries already," Angeles said.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the outlook of tourism, remains cautious, as activity is only expected to come close to pre-pandemic levels sometime near 2023 or until individuals feel much safer traveling en masse again.

Nevertheless, the uptick, even if it means one job at a time, is warmly welcomed by Filipino tourism workers who continue to reel from the massive fallout of the global pandemic. 

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