Travel industry expects to bounce back in 2021

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 23) — The travel industry is ready to embark on the road to recovery next year, expecting more trips as people draw confidence from the rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

Budget airline AirAsia Philippines sees domestic flight operations to be back to normal by the fourth quarter of 2021, with international flights starting to pick up in the third quarter.

AirAsia Philippines CEO Ricky Isla said these estimates are based on government pronouncements that vaccines against the dreaded coronavirus disease will be available in the country by the second quarter.

“That is going to build a strong confidence therefore for our passengers to fly especially if they know there’s vaccine,” Isla, who is also chairman of the Air Carriers Association of the Philippines, told CNN Philippines’ Front and Center.

Planes were forced to park from March to May when strict lockdown measures were imposed on Luzon under enhanced community quarantine, resulting in major losses and massive layoffs. Airlines gradually resumed flights as the government eased restrictions to reopen the economy, which has plunged into recession.

READ: Airlines see ‘hassle-free’ travel with COVID-19 passports

Victory Liner, one of the country’s largest bus companies, also let go of 400 employees due to the coronavirus crisis. More provincial routes are being opened now but passenger turnout depends on the rules enforced by local government units as the country remains under varying levels of community quarantine.

“I think around the first or second quarter, medyo luluwag na ‘yung kanilang mga (they will relax the) rules and regulations in the LGUs so hopefully we see something going on within the first and second quarter,” Victory Liner operations manager Aleksandr Briones said.

Sea travel provider 2GO also admitted financial constraints as it limits ships to carrying only 50% of total passenger capacity.

“Eventually, once the vaccine is deployed, then we would increase capacity,” 2GO Chief Operating Officer Waldo Basilla said, stressing that passenger safety “is foremost.”

Safe travels

The government has been urging the public to stay home this holiday season to prevent further spread of the virus. For necessary trips, airline, bus, and ship companies assure it’s safe to board public vehicles due to strict monitoring and disinfection measures.

AirAsia said its planes are equipped with special filters called HEPA or high-efficiency particulate air systems similar to those used in hospital operating rooms.

“These HEPA filters actually revolves the air every two minutes, it disinfects and kills 99.9% of virus including coronavirus,” Isla said.

Victory Liner said it has been complying with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board’s order to have filtration systems in buses. All buses are disinfected before leaving and upon arriving at terminals, Briones said. Barriers are in place to avoid contact among passengers.

“Most of our buses, we’re trying to convert them to three rows where there’s almost 1.5 meters apart away from each other,” Briones added.

2GO said it has been used to stringent measures early into the pandemic as it converted its vessels into quarantine facilities for returning overseas Filipino workers and seafarers.

Ships are deep cleaned often, while handrails and other high-touch surfaces are wiped and sanitized every hour, Basilla said.

Other health standards

Aside from these disinfection protocols, the government has made it mandatory to wear both face masks and face shields when in public areas. Social distancing is a must. Temperatures are checked in terminals and before entering establishments.

Some local destinations are requiring travelers to present negative test results through RT-PCR testing, considered as the gold standard in detecting coronavirus infection. While the country remains closed to most foreign nationals, returning Filipinos have to test negative for the virus before leaving a quarantine facility.

The Philippines has recorded over 462,000 cases of COVID-19, with 9,021 deaths and nearly 430,000 recoveries. Around 1,000 to 2,000 new infections are being announced daily. Experts are seeing the start of the holiday surge even as the government appealed to the public to stay away from social gatherings to curb transmission.

Catch the full interviews on CNN Philippines’ Front and Center on Wednesday, December 23, at 7:00 p.m.