DOT says staycations to help boost domestic tourism amid pandemic; hotel industry 'optimistic'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 13 2020 10:47 PM

The Grand Hyatt Manila began accepting staycation guests last October 9. Sanitation areas were in place, while health declaration forms must be filled out for a staycation guest or a walk-in guest at the restaurant. Grand Hyatt Manila handout 

MANILA -- Hotel establishments have been "very excited" after the Department of Tourism (DOT) allowed staycations in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ). 

DOT guidelines define staycations as a "minimum of an overnight stay for leisure purposes" in hotels not being used as isolation or quarantine facilities.

Hotels must apply for a certificate of authority to operate for staycations. They must also have a 4- or 5-star rating from DOT. 

DOT-NCR regional director Woodrow Maquiling Jr. said a number of hotels have already applied to be included in the list of “staycation” establishments. Among these hotels accredited for staycations are Okada Manila, Grand Hyatt Manila, Makati Shangri-La, and Shangri-La at the Fort, he said. 

"Around mga 10 hotels have applied already. In fact, as of October 1, we have [already released] 4 certificates of authority for staycation," Maquiling said.

The DOT is optimistic that staycations would help the local economy.

"Kasi under GCQ, bawal pa ang leisure, bawal pa ang tourism. So the DOT asked the IATF kung pwede itong staycation even under GCQ. We are so happy that they agreed. This is like a boost to our domestic tourism also. At least makakapag-start pakonti-konti," Puyat said.

(Under GCQ, leisure and tourism are not allowed. So the DOT asked the IATF if they would allow staycation even under GCQ. We are so happy that they agreed. This is like a boost to our domestic tourism also. At least, this is a start.)

The Philippines employs a 4-level community quarantine scheme ranging from the strictest enhanced community quarantine to the most relaxed modified GCQ.

The quarantine level dictates the type of business activities allowed in a certain area, as well as travel restrictions.

Employees, employers ‘optimistic’ for industry revival amid pandemic

Randy Castillo has been in the hotel industry for 15 years. He is currently an assistant manager in food and beverage at Okada Manila.

Although the hotel industry felt the huge blow of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, he remained optimistic, especially as their hotel was among those allowed to accept staycation guests.

"Biglang nagsarado rin yung maraming industries. Actually, sa Okada, marami ring outlets yung nagsarado. We are happy, ngayon, nagbubukas na ulit," he said.

(Other industries suddenly had to close. Actually, in Okada, a lot of outlets have also closed. We are happy, now, industries are slowly opening.)

"Let's just be positive na everything will be back to normal and sigurado naman 'yan... Makakabalik tayong lahat dito and, sana, pati ang ating turista," Castillo said.

(Let's just be positive that everything will be back to normal and that's guaranteed... We will be back here and, hopefully, also tourists).

Okada began accepting staycation guests on October 2. Upon entrance, guests will go through temperature check, sanitation, luggage check and disinfection. Inside, health declaration forms must be filled out before proceeding to the check-in area. In both procedures, tablets are used to avoid contact among guests and hotel staff.

Robots constantly roam around areas of the hotel to disinfect. Upon entrance to the room, a robot is also in place, which can clean an entire room for an average of 15 minutes.

Everything in the room is sealed — from the door, cabinets, beverage, food, among others.

Amenities that are open for guests include the beauty salon and barber shop, where strapless masks are provided for the comfort of guests.

The spa pool lounge, gym, Bay Garden area, and restaurants are also open at limited capacities.

"We have invested in a lot of equipment. We have invested in training our employees to ensure that they're prepared and they can provide the same exceptional guest experience even in the new normal," said Ivaylo Ivanov, Okada's senior vice president for hotel operations.

"We continue to support the Philippine government, and the rules and regulations to make sure that we fight and go over the COVID pandemic and return to a more normal life,” he added.

Ivanov believes supporting staycations will also pave the way for job generation.

"It's extremely important to bring our amazing team members back to work. So bringing our team members back to work, creating more jobs... our operations [have] a snowball effect on many vendors, many small businesses. We support the local businesses in the Philippines very much.” he said

He said he was also sure that their business partners and employees would be “very happy” to return to work. 

Meanwhile, Makati Shangri-La will welcome staycation guests starting October 19, although safety measures are already in place.

At the entrance, guests must sign health declaration forms. Guests will also go through a foot bath, temperature check, luggage check and sanitation.

At the check-in counter, guests may opt to use cashless payment. Cash would be accepted but will be placed in a tray and sanitized through UV light.

Inside the room, care kits are available for each guest. Guests may access a mobile application, which they could use for contactless room service and other concerns.

"We use hospital-grade chemicals. We have 12 touchpoints that we really focused on when doing room cleaning [which] includes air conditioning units to make sure that we have a really clean environment. Our housekeeping staff use full PPE when cleaning the rooms not only to protect them but protect our guests as well," Greg Findlay, Makati Shangri-La's general manager, explained.

The hotel's buffet is open for check-in and walk-in guests. But instead of guests getting their own food, they will just call the waiters, who will get their orders and prepare them. 

Sanitation areas are placed in different parts of the restaurant, while utensils are wrapped in table napkins, and mask holders are prepared for each guest.

It is operating on a 30 percent capacity, ensuring that there is no face-to-face seating among guests.

"Our team [goes] beyond to ensure that guests will experience the same [as our] better dining experience,” Ryan Reyes, Makati Shangri-La’s assistant director of food and beverage, said.

Other amenities available include the swimming pool, which could accept 10 people at any given time. The gym, meanwhile, could accommodate 15 people at any given time. Screens have been installed to ensure social distancing.

Findlay is looking forward to welcoming guests as the industry rises from the effects of the pandemic.

"Makati Shangri-La is no different. We're obviously not seeing any international guests at the moment. We can only focus on essential businesses, such as BPOs and essential services... So, for us, having staycations is gonna be a good boost to our hotel. And we can focus on the domestic market quite easily.

"It's been a very quiet hotel for the last 6 months. Even since we've opened the restaurants, it's great to see people back in this lobby, he said.

Another hotel, Grand Hyatt Manila, began accepting staycation guests last October 9.

Sanitation areas are in place, while health declaration forms must be filled out for a staycation guest or a walk-in guest at the restaurant.

The hotel's gym and swimming pool are open but at a limited capacity.

An electrostatic device and disinfection trolley are used to disinfect rooms. A hygiene manager then uses a swab machine to check the cleanliness of the surface, especially high touchpoints or areas which are touched by guests the most.

Gottfried Bogensperger, Grand Hyatt Manila's general manager, said safety is a "global commitment," as they open their doors for guests who want to get out of their homes, but still want to feel a semblance of home.

He dubbed the staycation market as "important."

"Not to make the big money, but in the sense of keeping the industry running, keeping people employed, and taking care of the local community to help the local workforce," he said.

"Hotels, in general, employ a huge amount of people. A hotel of that size has [500 employees immediately.] They all have families and people who rely on them. So the staycation market, in that sense for us, is important to keep the operations running," he said.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo–Puyat said the agency will monitor establishments to ensure compliance to health and safety protocols. Fines and penalties would be imposed on violators.

"We could revoke their DOT accreditation. Ibig sabihin (this means), they cannot operate at all," said Puyat.

Guests of all ages have already been allowed to go on staycations, except those who are pregnant or those with comorbidity.

They must present a negative result of their rapid antigen test conducted on the day of their check-in. The test would be shouldered by the staycation guest.

"But I'm pretty sure that the hotels will input this already in their cost whenever they give their price with staycationers," Puyat added.

Okada Manila, Makati Shangri-La, and Grand Hyatt Manila are already looking to setting up their own testing facilities, so that guests can proceed to the hotel and conduct the test.

Staycation to aid economy 

The government allowing staycation is good news for the Canimo family, who used to go on staycations at least once a month before the pandemic.

Due to the family's enthusiasm for travelling, they have visited different places in the Philippines. They believe that travelling is not only for leisure, but also for learning about life.

"Time management talaga natuto. Tapos 'yung mga experiences, nashe-share din nila. Kaya 'yung mga bata, natuwa dahil may plano na ulit kaming lumabas ngayon," said Ays Canimo, a mother of 3.

(We learn about time management. We share our experiences. Our kids are happy because we now have plans to go out.)

For her, it is important to have a "balanced" life.

"Kailangan after mong mag-stress, kailangan mo mag-relax. Kumbaga work, work, work, and enjoy. Maraming work tapos isang enjoy, " she said.

(After being stressed, you must relax. This translates to work, work, work, and enjoy. Do a lot of work, and then enjoy.)

Her husband, Meldin, is also excited to bond with the family, and, in turn, also help other families and the economy.

"Nagkakaroon ng trabaho ulit yung sa mga hotel. Siyempre 'pag nag-stay ka, may work sila. Magiging okay ang economy, gumastos ka, may kumita," he said.

(Those in the hotel industy will have work. If a guest stays, they will have work. This will help the economy, as one spends, and others earn from this.)

As the country eases restrictions, Puyat reminded the public that "whether it's staycation or going to Boracay etc., meron pang COVID (COVID still exists). So minimum health and safety protocols should be followed. You always have to wash your hands, watch your distance."

Tourism worldwide was badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic after governments sought to limit movement among people to prevent the spread of the virus. 

As a result, the industry was forced to cut jobs, particularly among airlines and travel agencies.

— Arra Perez, ABS-CBN News