Freeman Cebu Business

Vaccine tourism

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos - The Freeman

Last year, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reported that the “cost up to May, 2020 was already three times that of the 2009 Global Economic Crisis.” It further reported, through its World Tourism Barometer, that “the near-complete lockdown imposed in response to the pandemic led to a 98 per cent fall in international tourist numbers in May, 2020 when compared to 2019.”

It also showed a “56% year-on-year drop in tourist arrivals between January and May, 2020.” This resulted into “a fall of 300 million tourists and US$320 billion lost in international tourism receipts – more than three times the loss during the Global Economic Crisis of 2009.”  Due to this very sad development, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili emphasized late last year the need to restart tourism the soonest possible time, of course, when the situation warrants. 

Not necessarily an answer to his call(as the situation does not warrant it yet), a new kind of tourism emerged.  Ironically, it is called “vaccine tourism.” Lately, there is an influx of wealthy tourists from Latin American countries into the USA to get some shots of the COVID 19 vaccines. Awash with vaccines, most states are encouraging it not for humanitarian reasons but to revive their respective states’ tourism industry. Normally staying for a month (for the administration of two doses), hotels and restaurants are, indeed, raking in precious dollars from wealthy “vaccine tourists.”

Not only affluent countries awash with vaccines are encouraging it though. Maldives, a country where tourism contributes 67% to its GDP, is likewise embracing it. With just 530,000 inhabitants, this island nation’s population is almost 100% immunized. Thus, its “3V” (visit, vaccinate and vacation) strategy is gaining traction.  

In us, a country (with about 110 million people) that depends largely on vaccine donations, cannot replicate this new money-making tourism initiative. However, there are very encouraging developments that may serve as well and will certainly determine where global tourism industry is heading to.  Lately, angel investors (AIs) and venture capitalists (VCs)have regained their appetite for travel and tourism initiatives. 

Notably, Hipcamp, a marketplace connecting campers and land, received funding amounting to US$25 million from VCs lately. This company is “re-embracing the outdoors, growth of travel and adventure-seeking industries and land conservation and improvement efforts.” Its mission is to “get more people outside and do it in a way that supports consumer desires while simultaneously creating meaningful revenue opportunities for landowners.”

About six years ago it started partnering with landowners. Since then it was able to establish the “largest network of private land in the United States for camping, glamping, RVs and outdoor recreation, with thousands of unique places and outdoor experiences throughout the country.” Among many, its network includes coconut farms in Hawaii, exclusive vineyards in California, country ranches in Montana and pristine forestry land in Maine.

Unlike the once in a century “vaccine tourism,” this is easy to replicate in the country.  Obviously, we already have farms and campsites that are ready to be unlocked. What we don’t have is an institution like Hipcamp that can develop a platform where landowners or farm owners and tourists can meet.  Is it difficult to develop one? Probably not. Aren’t we bragging about our IT experts’ capabilities?

Moreover, lest we forget, while the availability of real-time communication benefitted the majority of the country’s population in many ways, it has also somehow hastened rural exodus.  Consequently, congestion in the urban areas is sickening and inactivity in the countryside is deafening. Worse, both situations have added concerns on criminality in the urban areas and non-productivity in the countryside. 

If we are able to bring tourists to the countryside through a good platform, then, we shall be able to present opportunities for them to earn and a good reason to stay. Therefore, having undertakings that directly relate to what they are doing right now that may uplift their well-being might be tenable. Supported by a good platform, one of these could be countryside tourism, in general, and farm tourism, in particular.

Moreover, if the local government units will support this initiative, then its funds may be realigned to focus more on infrastructure development to make these places of interests accessible to tourists. Likewise, if our military and the national police will be able to address peace and order issues in the countryside, then, probably, farm tourism will be an undertaking that is truly sustainable.

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