Rebuild PH Tourism Initiatives

September 28, 2021

Pia Allones

Who wouldn’t miss being able to go outside and enjoy the relaxation or thrills life brings whenever one would unwind by the beach or explore the depths of the ocean? With the help of people such as Mr. Tres Fenix III, the general manager and president of Cebu-based travel agency, Hello Ph! he would accompany you in your exploration of the top tourist destinations across the Visayan region. This was, of course, before the pandemic struck. With no tourists in sight, he had to find solutions for his company and his team to survive the pandemic. 


Mr. Tres’ mixed background of marine education, economics, hospitality and hotel service experience led him to pursue a business in the tourism industry. It was his dream to preserve the Philippine environment and to make it an international sanctuary while promoting tourism. He noted that with our pristine beaches and beautiful coral reefs, our country was sure to attract tourists which in turn would provide economic opportunities for our countrymen. By also being a tour operator, he greets foreigners and teaches them how to properly use and take care of the beach during their trips as he expressed, “...you cannot separate the economic activity that needs to be done and protect the environment, so you get in the middle.”

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With a team composed of eight members and full-time tour guides, he reaped the fruits of his hard work. But as the pandemic led to continuous lockdowns, he was left with three full-time employees and one part-time staff as the others made their own personal and informed decisions to go home to their families. Now, the time came for him to overcome any challenge that came his way and to thrive in these unprecedented times together with his remaining staff who wanted to continue working at Hello PH! 

 

One of the biggest challenges Mr. Tres faced was his travel agency not being able to operate in the pandemic due to the Department of Trade and Industry’s classification of businesses. They were only able to go back to their office in August 2020. Moreover, another challenge was taking care of his staff so that they would remain calm and be able to continuously operate despite the uncertainty they faced. Lastly, preparing his staff mentally for the pandemic was his primary concern. He wanted to make everyone feel safe by explaining the science behind the virus and good sanitation protocols. These were what he tackled all throughout this time as he looked at what course of action to take for his team to survive the effects of the pandemic to their livelihoods.

In the early stages of the community quarantine when everyone thought that this would last only three months or so, Mr. Tres was able to foresee that tourism would possibly be severely affected and would be closed for more than a year. His staff was also informed of the reality of that possibility as they were not allowed to service tourists.

Mr. Tres instructed his staff to call up their hotel partners, transportation services, and local activity providers from Dumaguete, Dauin, and Boracay, among others to check up on the people from their destinations. He wanted to see how they were doing and assist the stakeholders of his business. In this time, what was happening to the different destinations of the Philippines and the impact on tourism were not well-known. According to Mr. Tres, “Palawan was almost zero, Dumaguete and Dauin were already zero as Dumaguete and Bohol were suffering already in terms of tourism.” Nobody knew what to do as everybody was closing down and it was hard to reach out for assistance.

The possibility of not being able to remain open, to continue operating, or to make income were real and disheartening problems.

 

With this, he asked his staff what they wanted to do. He was aware that his team was capable of working at home because of their digital transformation. At the same time, they expressed their concerns about what the others were going through and wanted to figure out how to help since everyone was getting affected. They continued calling hotels and coming up with plans to find solutions on how to pursue work opportunities and generate income during the community quarantine with no clients to serve.

 

“That was how we started our pandemic lockdown. Asking ourselves, how do we help the tourism workers survive the pandemic? Because sila ang mawawalan ng trabaho (Because they are the ones who will lose their jobs). That’s why we did not feel too scared or down because looking back, we had a good goal. That was what kept us busy.”

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And with that, the Rebuild PH Tourism Initiative was put into action by Mr. Tres and Hello PH! It was what motivated them during this difficult time as their aim focused on how to help the tourism workers survive the pandemic. Their current objectives include how to help tourism businesses restart, sustain, and rebuild their businesses. As Mr. Tres said, “if we do that, they’ll be the ones to help the individual tourism workers.” 


With six current initiatives on this new project founded by Mr. Tres, he was able to respond to the plight of Hello Ph’s partners. ​​For tourism businesses, the Tuloy Parin Tayo! Store serves as an avenue to sell products and goods for the benefit of tourism workers. Alongside this, people are also able to reserve hotel rooms, transportation transfers, airline flights and entrance tickets as a dignifying promise to travel and tourism workers that tourists will soon avail of their services in the near future using advanced purchases. By supporting tourism businesses, one is helping tourism workers while securing their future travels!

Aside from that, clients would eventually make calls and requests over the pandemic for international driving permits as that was one of the services they offered. Even if they were not receiving too many customers, Mr. Tres wanted to make ends meet for everyone and to make their experiences as bearable as possible as they all dealt with the pandemic. “By not thinking about [the discouraging news] too much, [the Rebuild Ph Tourism Initiatives] happened and it helped us out,” he exclaimed.

Mr Tres said, “If you redefine things properly, then you’ll see new ways of looking at it and solutions come out.”

 

In the end, he expressed how he saw several silver linings to the adversities he has experienced. One of them being that despite the reduced staff, the capacity of his company remains the same or even greater than pre-pandemic levels thanks to the aid of technology which he was gratefully able to access. 

 

Aside from that, he witnessed how the playing field was equalized as new entrepreneurs can enter the industry without the usual roadblocks. The ideas and innovations of younger staff are also heard more in larger companies as new options are needed from everyone to thrive in this new age.

 

“We were able to get out of the corporate rat race and if things go back to normal, it would be proven that I don’t have to go to the office everyday,” said Mr. Tres. He was certainly grateful that on top of that, he can do his office tasks at home as well which would mean that he could still spend enough time with his family.

 

With that in mind, another one of his most thought-provoking silver linings was the shift on what is important in his life, or in general, to society as a whole. He was happy when he had food on his table and was with his loved ones. He was even able to spend more time with his family and newborn son on a daily basis as they break the norm of long work hours away from home.

 

Throughout his experiences, Mr. Tres wishes for people to have a cheerful mind. “If people have a cheerful mind, if their minds are in the right place and they help each other, there’s nothing we can’t solve together,” he said.

 

From not being allowed to operate up until initiating his new project, Mr. Tres’ inspiring work in the tourism industry tells a story of reimagining and rebuilding the possibilities for Philippine tourism despite the setbacks of the pandemic. He is certain that by working and coping together, we can all take action for what is best at the moment for everybody involved in the tourism industry. Mr. Tres’ story is truly one of tenacity, resilience, and compassion for all.

 

Rebuild PH Tourism Initiative

September 28, 2021

Pia Allones

Transalted by Amiel Roy Zaulda

Sino ba naman ang hindi nami-miss ang  lumabas ng bahay at malibang sa tuwing magre-relax sa tabi ng dagat o sumisid sa malalim na karagatan? Sa tulong ng mga taong gaya ni Ginoong Tres Fenix III, ang general manager at president ng Hello Ph!, isang travel agency sa Cebu, mapapasyal mo ang mga patok na tourist spot at bakasyunan sa buong Visayas na lubhang kinagigiliwan ng karamihan. Subalit, ito pa ay noong wala pa ang pandemya. Dahil wala nang mga turistang bumibisita, napilitan siyang maghanap ng paraan upang siya at ang kaniyang staff ay makaraos ngayon sa gitna ng pandemya.

 

Ang kaniyang pinaghalong karanasan sa pagtatapos ng marine industry at kasanayan sa economics, at hospitality and management ang nag-udyok sa kaniyang magbukas ng negosyo sa tourism industry. Noon pa man ay pangarap na niyang pangalagaan ang kalikasan ng Pilipinas at gawin itong internasyunal na kanlungan (sanctuary) habang ipino-promote ang turismo. Ayon sa kaniya, sa tulong ng ating mga naggagandahang dalampasigan at nakapakulay na bahura (coral reefs), nakahihikayat ang ating bansa ng mga turista na siya ring nakapagbibigay ng mga pangkabuhayang oportunidad sa mga Pilipinong manggagawa. Bilang isang tour operator, binabati niya ang mga turista at tinuturuan sila ng tamang paggamit ng at pangangalaga sa mga dalampasigan sa tuwing may beach trip. Ika nga niya, “Hindi mo maihihiwalay ang negosyo na kailangan gawin sa pangangalaga ng kalikasan, kung kaya nariyan ka na lang lulugar sa gitna.”

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Kasama ang kaniyang team na binubuo ng walong miyembrong pawang mga tour guides din, napipitas niya ang mga bunga ng kaniyang pagsisikap. Subalit nang magsimula ang pandemya at nagpatuloy-tuloy ang pagpapatupad ng mga lockdown, siya, tatlong full-time, at isang part-time na empleyado na lang ang natira dahil nagpasya ang ibang umuwi na lamang sa kani-kanilang pamilya. Ngayon, pasan niya ang responsibilidad na lagpasan ang mga pagsubok na sasalubong sa kaniya at kaniyang natitirang mga team member na nagpasyang magpatuloy ng pagtatrabaho sa Hello Ph!.

Isa sa mga napakalaking pagsubok na hinarap ni G. Tres ay ang pansamantalang pagsasara ng negosyo dahil hindi ito nasa klasipikasyong “essential business” ng Department of Trade and Industry. Pagkatapos, nakabalik lang sila ng opisina noong Agosto 2020. Dagdag dito, naging hamon din sa kaniyang panatilihing kalmado at produktibo ang kaniyang naiwang staff sa kabila ng alinlangan. Panghuli, naging pangunahin niyang hamon ang paghahanda niya sa mental na kalusugan ng kaniyang staff. Ninais niyang maging ligtas ang lahat sa pamamagitan ng pagtuturo ng mga mahahalagang impormasyon tungkol sa  virus at pagpapanatili ng wastong kalinisan (good hygiene). Ang mga ito lamang ang kaniyang pokus ngayon habang palaisipan pa sa kaniya kung paano nila haharapin at lalagpasan ang mga epekto ng pandemya sa kanilang kabuhayan.

 

Sa mga unang yugto ng community quarantine—ang panahon na kung kailan inakala ng lahat na tatagal lamang nang tatlo o ilang buwan ang pandemya—naisip na kaagad ni G. Tres na malubhang maaapektuhan at isasara nang mahigit isang taon ang industriyang panturismo. Pinaalam na rin niya sa kaniyang staff ang posibilidad na magkatotoo ang kaniyang agam-agam dahil hindi rin sila pinapayagan na magtrabaho at tumanggap ng mga turista.

 

Inutusan din ni G. Tres ang kaniyang staff na tawagan ang kanilang mga hotel partner, transportation service, at local na activity provider sa Dumaguete, Dauin, at Boracay—ilan lamang sa mga lugar na may contact sila—upang kumustahin ang lagay ng turismo roon.

Nais niya ring malaman ang kalagayan ng mga tourism workers doon at tulungan ang mga stakeholder ng kaniyang negosyo. Sa mga panahong ito, hindi pa masyadong batid ng karamihan ang epekto ng pandemya sa turismo. Wika niya, “Wala nang turista sa Dumaguete at Dauin, muntikan na ring mawalan ng mga bumibisita sa Palawan, at nauna nang tumamlay ang turismo sa Dumaguete at Bohol.” Hindi na rin nila malaman kung ano ang gagawin dahil sa pagsasara ng negosyo at sa hirap ng paghingi ng tulong.

 

Sa puntong ito, ang imposibilidad ng operasyon at pagkakaroon ng kita ay napakalaking suliranin at mga tinik sa puso.

Dahil dito, tinanong na lang niya ang kaniyang staff kung ano ang nais nilang gawin. Alam naman niyang kaya ng kaniyang staff ang kalakarang work-from-home sapagkat gumagamit na rin sila kaagad ng makabagong teknolohiya bago pa man ang pandemya. Sa parehong panahon, ibinahagi naman ng kaniyang staff ang mga hinaing ukol sa pinagdaraanan ng ilan nilang katrabaho, at gusto rin nilang malaman kung paano sila makatutulong dahil alam nilang lahat sila ay apektado. Patuloy silang nag-contact sa mga hotel at nag-isip ng mga plano para magka-hanapbuhay at kita sila sa panahon ng community quarantine dahil nga wala masyadong mga kliyente o turista.

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“Ganoon kami noong umpisa ng lockdown, tinatanong ang aming mga sarili, ‘Paano namin matutulungan ang mga tourism worker ngayong pandemya?’ dahil  sila ang mawawalan ng trabaho. Hindi kami natakot o nag-alala dahil alam naming mabuti ang aming hangarin. Ito ang dahilan kung bakit kami abala.”

At dahil dito, inilunsad ng Hello Ph!, sa pangunguna ni G. Tres, ang Rebuild PH Tourism Initiative. Ang kanilang layon na tulungan ang mga tourism worker na makaraos ngayong pandemya ang dahilan kung bakit siya at ang kaniyang staff ay nananatiling determinado (motivated). Kabilang sa kasalukuyan nilang initiative ay ang pagsisimula muli (restarting), pagbuo muli (rebuilding), at pagpapatibay (sustaining) ng mga tourism business. Gaya nga ng winika ni G. Tres, “Kung gagawin natin ang mga ito para sa kanila, sila rin ang tutulong sa mga indibidwal na tourism worker.”

Sa kanilang kasalukuyang anim na initiative sa kanilang mga bagong proyekto ni G. Tres, nakaya niyang matugunan ang mga hinaing at suliranin ng mga partner ng HelloPh!. Para naman sa mga tourism business, ang Tuloy Parin Tayo! Store ay nagbebenta ng samu’t saring produkto na tutulong sa mga tourism worker.

Bukod dito, maaari ding magpa-reserve ang mga kliyente ng mga hotel room, transportation transfer, airline flight, at entrance ticket bilang pangako sa mga travel at tourism worker na matatamasa rin ng mga turista sa hinaharap sa pamamagitan ng mga advanced purchase. Sa pagtangkilik sa mga tourism business, para mo na ring tinutulungan at sinusuportahan ang mga tourism worker na umahon habang sinisigurado ang pangakong travel sa kanila  sa hinaharap.

 

Bukod doon, maaaring tumawag at mag-request ang mga kliyente ukol sa mga international driving permit dahil isa rin ito sa mga serbisyong ino-offer nina G. Tres. Kahit na madalang silang makatanggap ng mga kostumer, sinisigurado ni G. Tres na kumikita pa rin at nagkakaroon sila ng magandang karanasan ngayon, lalo na at mabigat ang pasanin nila buhat ng pandemya. “Sa hindi masyadong pagpapadala sa mga negatibo at nakapanghihinang balita, naisakatuparan ng Rebuild PH Tourism Initiatives ang kanilang mga layon, at marami itong natulungan,” ani G. Tres.

Dagdag niya,

 

“Kung titingnan mo muli nang mabuti ang mga bagay, makakakita ka ng bagong pananaw sa mga ito, at tuluyan na ring darating ang mga solusyon.”

 

Sa huli, ipinahayag niya kung paano niya nakita ang pag-asa at lakas sa kabila ng mga pagsubok niyang nasalubong. Isa na roon ang pananatili sa at pagpapataas ng kapasidad ng kaniyang kompanya kahit na nabawasan siya ng staff.

Bukod diyan, nakita niya kung paano naging pantay ang laro ng negosyo para sa mga bagong negosyante kahit hindi tradisyunal ang pamamaraan na kanilang tinahak sa pagsisimula ng negosyo. Ang mga ideya at ambag ng mga nakababatang staff ay napahahalagahan na rin ng mga malalaking kompanya dahil nangangailangan sila ng mga bagong idea upang magtagumpay ngayon, sa makabagong panahon.

“Nakaya naming kumalas sa agresibong kompetensiya sa mundo ng negosyo (corporate rat race), at kung bumalik man ang lahat sa normal, mapatutunayan ko nang hindi ko na kailangang pumunta pa sa opisina araw-araw,” sabi ni G. Tres. Lubos siyang nagpapasalamat na ang kaniyang trabaho ay nagagawa pa rin sa bahay, at nagkakaroon siya ng sapat na oras para sa kaniyang pamilya.

Kaugnay nito, isa pa sa mga silver lining na nakita niya ang pagpalit ng kung ano ang pinahahalagahan niya at, sa kabuuan, ng lipunan sa buhay. Lubos siyang masaya na may pagkain sila sa kaniyang hapag-kainan at nakasasama niya ang mga mahal sa buhay. Nakapaglalaan din siya ng oras sa kaniyang sanggol na lalaking anak sapagkat hindi na siya pumupunta sa opisina.

Sa kabuuan, hinihikayat ni G. Tres na magkaroon ng positibong pananaw ang mga tao, “Kung mayroon tayong positibong pag-iisip, kung ang isip natin ay nasa tamang lugar at estado, at kung magtutulungan ang bawat isa, walang hindi makakamtan nang sama-sama.”

Mula sa pagsara ng kaniyang negosyo hanggang sa paglunsad ng kaniyang mga bagong proyekto, ang istorya ni G. Tres ay nagsasalaysay ng pagbabalik-alindog at pagpapatibay ng mga oportunidad para sa turismo ng Pilipinas sa kabila ng mga hamon ng pandemya. Sigurado siyang sa pamamagitan ng sama-samang pagpupunyagi, magagawa natin ang pinakamainam na minimithi sa panahon ngayon para sa lahat ng nagtatrabaho sa panturismong industriya. Ang kuwento ni G. Tres Felix III ay kuwento ng tibay, kakayahang umahon sa mga hamon, at malasakit sa ibang tao.