At travel and tech forum, need for ‘human touch’ underscored


BOTS, travel apps, and QR codes. Many of these digital technology innovations were adopted by the tourism industry struggling to survive in the Covid-19 pandemic. But many of the tourism leaders who spoke at the recent   government-led Tourism and Technology Forum (TTF 2021) underscored the importance of the “human touch” and “face-to-face” interactions in reopening the industry.

They also batted for just one app to serve the needs of the travelers, whether it be for entry requirements or contact-tracing. TTF 2021, with its theme, “Securing tomorrow today with digitech,” is a project of the Department of Tourism and its marketing arm, the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB).

Margie Munsayac, chair of the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association Inc. said, “Government sites must have the latest information for travelers 24/7,—what are the present protocols with regards to travel bookings, entry requirements, etc.” She cited the case of Maribago Bluewater Resorts, where she is Vice President for Sales and Marketing, which has a “24/7 front office, allowing guests to talk to humans, instead of a chatbot. The human touch is very important.”

This was seconded by Jose C. Clemente III, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines: “Online travel and tour operators take away business from us [brick-and-mortar agencies].” But he added that many people “get frustrated also with technology. There’s always a place for the human factor; it’s still a necessity.” Yet he noted there were ways for digital technology and humans to co-exist, “such as in booking platforms and payments systems.”

One app to end all apps

For his part, Cesar R. Cruz, president of the Philippine Tour Operators Association reported anew that his members have already been repackaging tours that will involve land travel, as many tourists are still hesitant to fly.

But he appealed for government to create “just one digital platform” or app to allow tourists to seamlessly travel domestically. “Baguio has its own Visita app; I wonder why the other LGUs just didn’t adopt that,” he asked.

Baguio’s Visita app was funded by the TPB, which has also developed its own Travel Philippines app to update tourists on the latest destinations that are open and  their entry requirements, aside from activities they can enjoy in these destinations. However, said app also has delays in updating travel information.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has already required all LGUs to use the StaySafe app for contact tracing. However, it still has interoperability issues with LGU apps of the same nature.

Meanwhile, Joel Pascual, president of the Philippine Association of Convention/Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers Inc. (Paceos), said many countries have already reopened to MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions).  In Singapore for instance, “they believe business travelers can follow rules better than leisure travelers.”


Speaking from the city-state where he is attending a conference on MICE, he said, when he arrived, “There is no inside airport experience” i.e., from immigration counters to baggage, all airport activities are held outside the terminals. “We were just told to register on an app for contact tracing, which we have to keep logged on until we leave Singapore.”

He added many MICE players in the conference said they have already “thrown out the idea of virtual conferencing. There is no replacement for personal interactions. And they are all waiting for us, the Philippines, to reopen.”

Singapore has strict rules on MICE, requiring participants to be vaccinated. But for those unvaccinated, there are limits in terms of the MICE size and number of delegates.

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