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Reflections of domestic tourists


White sand, blue skies, and waves … and people housed in rectangular boxes in a meeting. The beach became the default background in Zoom meetings and the closest we had to the real thing as we immersed ourselves online, trying to live our lives in the new normal.

We have been very cautious, going out only when needed because our son is not yet eligible for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine. And just like other parents, we always prioritize his safety. However, having been confined at home for the past two years has taken a toll on our mental health.

Searching for information on how to manage our struggle, we came across an article on children’s mental health by Dr. Cecily Maller and Dr. Mardie Townsend of Deakin University, who wrote, “Research on the health and wellbeing benefits of contact with animals and plants indicates the natural environment may have significant positive psychological and physiological effects on human health and wellbeing. In terms of children, studies have demonstrated that children function better cognitively and emotionally in ‘green’ environments and have more creative play.”

We noticed that our son was becoming dependent on gadgets. And so, when the government loosened restrictions, we decided to take a short trip to Laiya, San Juan, Batangas.

To avoid crowds, we traveled on a weekday. Even with the hotel rates significantly higher than they were before the pandemic, we were willing to spend more because we believed that we deserved this.

Before the pandemic, we would have weighed the pros and cons of a destination, and searched for the best rates. This time, we were willing to splurge on a hotel that takes extra steps to reduce its guests’ chances of contracting the virus.

Call it revenge spending: a phenomenon that explains how consumers hurry to spend more than they usually would on products and services because they believe they were denied the chance to spend due to an unfavorable event.

As reported in the May 2022 Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Economic Newsletter, “travel services declined by 81.7 percent to US$1.8 billion in 2020, and by another 66.5 percent in 2021 to only US$600 million.” People are raring to spend, and hotels are welcoming them warmly.

While our son was happily building sandcastles and sipping his mango shake, we were savoring the sight, sound, and smell of a non-virtual beach. While relaxing in a cabana, we noticed sellers walking back and forth along the shorefront of the different hotels.

If hotels were hit badly by the pandemic, vendors of souvenirs, sorbetes (dirty ice cream), local delicacies such as puto and suman (rice cakes), and whatnots were hit worse. Understandably, hotel security personnel would reprimand vendors when they approached hotel guests.

But if local governments were to accredit micro-entrepreneurs from the nearby communities, then they could create win-win solutions.

Hotels usually have similar offerings such as good food and great amenities. What could set them apart is offering sorbetes for an afternoon delight, or getting a vendor to create customized souvenirs for their guests. I, for one, would be more than willing to shell out a little more, knowing that I would be helping members of the community.

In the past years, we pivoted to connect digitally. Although our online setups have been useful, they pale in comparison to the real (non-virtual) world. Connecting with nature by visiting a beach can help our and our children’s mental health. But helping the most affected, vulnerable members of the industry along the way can lift their lives and improve their mental health, too.

Jenelyn Culian-Legaspi is an associate medical affairs manager at Johnson and Johnson Philippines, Inc. handling Consumer and OTC. Jose Luis Legaspi is an assistant professorial lecturer at the Department of Marketing and Advertising of De La Salle University. Both proud DLSU MBA graduates, they have been married for seven years, and are parents to a wonderful baby boy.

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