Insights: Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones

he chief operating officer of the Tourism Promotions Board Philippines is undaunted by the crisis, and remains certain the industry will pull through with adequate support from the government. She tells Rosa Ocampo why.

Last year, MICE stakeholders were calling on the government to prioritise the sector as the fastest way to jumpstart the economy. How is it going now?
We are one with that advocacy.

PACEOS (Philippine Association of Convention/Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers) has also asked the authorities to rethink MICE not as part of leisure tourism but business tourism. Business events are easier to manage as the participants are professionals, and share the advocacy for safety as opposed to leisure tourists.

That’s why as early as September 2020, we staged the hybrid PHITEX in Bohol in partnership with PACEOS and returned in December for a dedicated MICE fam tour. We succeeded in that area because of political support from the ground.

To the extent that TPB is allowed by law and regulations to support the MICE sector, we try to do as much as we can. We have a genuine concern for stakeholders whom we continue to hold dialogue with.

What concerns you most about the MICE sector?
It’s not particularly focused on the MICE sector, but it really has to do with our capacity as a country in terms of managing Covid-19.

If you look at those who monitor globally the metrics – the cases, vaccination rates, and public health system capacity – these are not under the purview of tourism, but these are things outside of our control that directly impact us on such a scale that if they do not succeed, we will also not succeed despite our efforts.

The silver lining is that through this dark phase, the tourism industry has not lost hope. With that spirit of resilience we will steer through the challenges, adapt to whatever comes our way, and stay flexible when taking on challenges. We are not perfect, there are pitfalls but we have the capacity to bounce back. These are really what I call glimmers that spark hope.

The Department of Tourism and TPB have offered to support and stage hybrid events. Can these events be sustained safely?
Not a single person tested positive in hybrid events such as the PHITEX 2020 in Bohol, PHITEX 2021 in Subic, PATA Adventure Travel Conference and Mart in Clark, Regional Travel Fair in Tacloban, and the two Tourism and Technology Forums in Metro Manila.

We adhere strictly to MICE safety protocols that are also in place internationally. We prioritise fully-vaccinated persons for physical attendance, and attendees had to undergo PCR (Polymerase chain reaction)tests prior to the event. Similarly, at the two-day Tourism and Technology Forum in Okada Manila, live out participants had to undergo daily Antigen Rapid Tests.

We are ready to host more hybrid events, and we are prepared for the trend of virtual events to make way for hybrid events.

Digital transformation is a must in travel and tourism. How is the government helping to address the country’s slow and unreliable Internet connectivity?
Do help us knock on the door of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), which has the mandate and the budget for the rollout of the national broadband network that will greatly improve Internet services.

But in fairness to DICT, last year they have identified tourist areas that they can be prioritised for free Wi-Fi access. While waiting for its implementation, telcos, as part of their CSR, are continuing with their efforts to install Internet access in tourist areas.

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