An online forum on Palawan’s tourism future was held this week attended by key industry leaders and political figures. One takeaway from this forum was the fair observation that the sector, which is one of the worst-hit segment of the economy, will also be one of the last to recover if and when the pandemic blows away.

Mayor Lucilo Bayron exuded a positive outlook even as he admitted that city tourism is down on its knees and “zero”, referring to arrivals and income receipts. He predicted it will take at least two to three years for this sector to bounce back in a post-pandemic scenario.

Mayor Bayron announced that the city government is picking up the pieces where they left them following the lockdowns, by resuming activity on several tourism related turnkey infrastructure projects. Some of these are the improvement of the wharf facility in the Underground River, the city’s main tourism draw, and the development of new tourism attractions such as the Balayong Tree farm.

Touching on the same topic earlier, Governor Jose Alvarez raised a scenario of an entirely new investment atmosphere in Palawan tourism, with the big players taking over the key role. “There will be a lot of changes in the commercial, political, demographics and they way people behave,” Alvarez said.

Last year when the pandemic wasn’t a factor in tourism development planning, Palawan was in a take off mode. The National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) had identified the province as a flagship area for the development of key infrastructure projects that will boost tourism investments, particularly for the northern Palawan hubs of El Nido and Coron.

Multilateral financing institutions such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was eyeing a Department of Tourism-led infrastructure program that will provide financing for urban infrastructure projects such as solid waste management systems, including strengthening the capacity of local tourism stakeholders.

Puerto Princesa City was coming off to a 25 percent increase in arrivals from the previous year’s figures and was projecting close to 2 million foreign arrivals from countries such as South Korea, China, US and UK, countries that had been severely hit by COVID-19.

Following an investment forum held in Manila in 2019, the city government proudly announced they had received investment commitments totaling P27.5B from some of the big players in the industry including SM Development Corporation and Green Asian Unlimited and Development Corporation. Both reportedly committed P10 billion each in the next five years.

All this will have to reconfigure in the starting line once the health crisis is over and travel becomes once more a key factor in tourism growth. But even two years of zero growth, as conservative projected, could mean the end for the industry and its current stakeholders as we know it.

The best scenario in a post-pandemic world for Palawan is the rebooting of its tourism economy. The main challenge for current tourism stakeholders is how to survive the crisis during the interregnum. Should the small sell out to the big, and move on to more pragmatic pursuits such as production and agriculture as Governor Alvarez suggested? Should the government develop an economic survival package that will bridge the local industry through the end of the health crisis?

Identifying these solutions for survival is present task for Palawan’s tourism sector, including the ordinary lives that depends on it.