With travel restrictions, it is unarguable that the worst hit by COVID-19 is the tourism industry. In the Philippines, you must actually be talking of Palawan, a premier destination. While tourism is the most deeply damaged, it is projected that it will also be the last that will recover. Not until 2024 as forecasted by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

To state what has already been made obvious, tourism has been the lifeblood of Palawan. For us, tourism means tour guides, travel agents, souvenir shops, zipline operators, pump boat mechanics, tourist van drivers, spa and wellness attendants, restaurant waiters and waitresses, dive instructors, cultural performers, kitchen staff, tricycle drivers and operators, among others. What was mentioned were just those who are directly in the formal tourism sector. They count around several thousand (40 thousand in estimation) of stakeholders in Palawan tourism. In many ways than one, every Palaweno benefits from tourism. Henceforth, every Palaweno is also bearing the brunt (and the pangs) of this notorious COVID-19.

I was in El Nido just recently. At daytime, I have gloried effortlessly in Palawan’s natural beauty seemingly back to its original pristineness. At nighttime though, also effortlessly, I have sensed the darkness as somewhat deep and the silence as deafening. Gone were the lights and sounds provided by tourism activities. If we may say so, beauty is about ecology at its finest while darkness and silence is economy at its gloomiest. Needless to say, balance must be the name of the game called tourism – ecology and economy. Anything less, or in excess, is but just doomed.

While we are at it, government sectors, stakeholders, and anybody in-the-know are already moving heaven and earth to revive the tourism world, albeit local yet. PPC has launched series of promotional caravans; Coron claims to be ready to welcome local tourists come December; in the same manner, El Nido gets set for a try, Port Barton is like a baby crawling to walk straight in due time. The stakeholders, on the other hand, have been amazingly very creative promoting here and there and around social media. Human talents and genius have instantaneously surfaced in order to attract and to have more fun, amidst crisis and despite protocols at that. It could be said, as I dare say that the human mind (with the Palawan touristic kind of brain), with all its bright ideas and with the mettle of the spirit, could well be considered as an added tourist attraction too. After all, the best asset for tourism, more than the place and the infrastructures, has been the wonderful people of the locale.

As we buckle up for a new ride in tourism, two cents of ethics will certainly not hurt. As this column always suggests, Right and Beauty- “If it is right, it must be beautiful; it is beautiful, it must be right”. In other words, ethics is that soul to every beauty.

Top on the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism (UNTWO) is respect – “… respect between peoples and societies.” Perhaps, priority too on this matter is respect for the environment. The current crisis is an eye-opener and a clarion call to humanity to take serious action for the sake of our “common home”, our planet.

Second, food. For all we know, we must have tilted too much on other industries (with due respect to tourism, of course) that we have failed to take notice of the importance of other potentials available to us, like tilling the agricultural lands. As what it happening now, not a few have gone back to farming. Bumalik sa lupa (figuratively and literally), wika nga. That said, our sight must now be on building smart villages, rather than smart cities. Beyond everything, a nice garden is also a tourist attraction, a vibrant farm is likewise enticing, a verdant forest is lovely just the same.

Last, but definitely not least, unity by cooperation is the key. The enemy of unity is not division, but greed. When one is so absorbed to make profits to the detriment of another, even without COVID-19, tourism will also collapse for all that. Factions among stakeholders soaked in too much politicking do make a perfect ingredient for tourism to appear unwelcoming. We have a front as hospitable to guests, but we are inhospitable with each other as hosts. This scenario is not only about ethics; it is also very pathetic.

The UNTWO recovery projection hurts. But we would rather be facing the hard truth than be consoled with a sweet lie.It is but a long journey and an uphill battle. It has to begin, nonetheless. Bangon turismo.