MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The Department of Tourism (DOT) gathered stakeholders representing hotels, tour operators, and tourist transport providers, assuring them that “nobody will be left behind” in its pursuit of digitalizing the tourism industry.
The DOT made the statement during a dialogue with stakeholders on June 13, particularly to tackle the Grab Tours Project, which was piloted last June 06 to 12.
Grab Tours aims to bring onboard the tourism value chain by providing access to its all-in-one technology platform that provides everyday services like mobility, food deliveries, financial services—and soon, tour packages.
“Through this partnership with Grab, we hope to bring into the fold of digital transformation, first and foremost, our micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which make up the majority of our tourism value chain. We also want to put premium on our accredited tourism-related enterprises (TREs), whose resilience and hard work have kept our industry afloat in the last two years of the pandemic,” said DOT Undersecretary Atty. Mae Elaine Bathan, quoting Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco.
The undersecretary emphasized the Tourism Chief’s objective “to leave nobody behind” in digitalizing the tourism value chain. “Through this digital innovation, we also endeavor to empower our country’s tour guiding sector, which we dearly consider as the core strength of our tourism,” Atty. Bhatan said.
Consultation is key
One of the major concerns raised in the meeting is that consultation is crucial in any public-private undertaking.
President of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) Roberto Zozobrado strongly believes that tourism stakeholders can greatly benefit from the platform.
“It is our products, our services that we will use here… and with the help from tourism organizations, there is no doubt this project will be a success,” he said.
Keeping an open mind, Fe Abling-Yu, President of the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA), openly offered to help introduce the project and to be an active partner of the Department through this initiative by recommending tour packages and help provide tour guides for the Grab Tours to become more enticing for the public.
“It is our products, our services that we will use here… and with the help from tourism organizations, there is no doubt this project will be a success,” she said. “We volunteer PHILTOA to launch Grab Tours,.”
Fe, however, reiterated the importance of coordination among stakeholders, and “putting everything in the proper perspective.”
Support DOT-accredited TREs
Meanwhile, Benito Bengzon, Jr., Executive Director of the Philippine Hotel Owners Association, likewise expressed support for this initiative to digitalize the tourism industry.
“We support your initiatives to make the Philippines globally competitive,” the former DOT undersecretary was quoted as saying, sharing how hotel owners have started to shift to digital solutions in their business transactions.
He further suggested prioritizing accredited TREs with regard to the Department’s promotions and business opportunities “as a matter of policy and practice.”
All about collaboration
According to Kurt Cendaña of Grab Philippines, their primary objective for this project is to collaborate with the travel and tourism industry by offering their technology, branding, and marketing as a new business model for them to digitalize.
“We are not here to compete with you. Tourism is not our core competency. We have never done any tourism-related products and services. But what we can confidently offer here is the Grab platform, and explore the possibility of onboarding tour providers, and tour operators, as part of Grab’s merchant menu offering,” he explained.
As part of its commitment to the DOT, the ride-hailing app behemoth has already trained select drivers, who will be part of the Grab Tours, under the Department’s one-day module on Filipino Brand of Service Excellence.
Thirty of its participating Grab drivers are also in the process of forming a cooperative, which will then be applying for DOT accreditation as a tourist transport provider.
Digitalization is the way forward
After threshing out concerns and tackling the sentiments of stakeholders on using the Grab platform as a new business model to connect more tour operators and travel agencies to a wider market segment, representatives from the tourism industry expressed their earnestness to fully support the project.
While the majority of the tourism stakeholders, mostly MSMEs, do not have the means to develop a superapp as Grab, they collectively agreed that “digitalization is the only way forward.”
Also in attendance during the said meeting were DOT Undersecretary Shahlimar Hofer Tamano, National Capital Region Director Sharlene Batin, Director Judilyn Quiachon, Head Executive Assistant Atty. Glen Ocampo, and other officers of the DOT standards and regulations division.
Other representatives from the hotel, tour operators, and tourist transport providers present included Aileen Clemente of Rajah Travel Corp, Florence Rivera of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies, Melody Palomares of the United Travel Agency Owners Association, Lira Sarigumba of Independent Travel Agency and Tour Operators Association, and Victor Martinez of the Philippine Association of Transport Operators.