Despite the pandemic, cancelling the annual Phitex, the largest government-organised travel trade event in the country, was not an option.
Consider all event types. Instead of a completely virtual event, choose the hybrid route where the situation and destination allows, to enable a wider, international reach
While the original plan was to proceed with a virtual event, it was switched to a hybrid version, shared Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) chief operating officer Anthonette Velasco Allones.
This is because Panglao Island in Bohol stepped in to host the physical edition where sellers could meet face-to-face, have networking sessions and enjoy on-site entertainment.
Still, strict safety and hygiene protocols were implemented at all times, from airports and aeroplanes to hotels and networking sessions. This included social distancing, vacant middle seats on the plane, and contact tracing cards. Physical participants were also required to undergo RT-PCT swab tests before flying to Panglao and before returning to Manila.
Meanwhile, interaction with foreign buyers was purely online through a virtual portal that allowed for video chats. This active pre-selling was done with the hope that these gains would be realised next year, said Allones.
Emotions ran high during Phitex, as this was the first major event the country had organised in a long time, as provinces were placed in varying degrees of quarantine since mid-March, and there was no tourism.
Of the 345 Philippine sellers, 44 boarded a chartered flight from Manila to the new Panglao International Airport. The rest attended virtually.
And as Bohol showed that it could host a trade event safely, its governer Arthur Yap shared the destination will gradually reopen to tourism starting mid-November. He is also considering welcoming small MICE groups.
The virtual show was successful in reaching out to a wider audience with the help of Facebook, which was also enlivened with concerts, on-demand webinars, roundtable discussions, online games and quizzes.
Phitex saw a total of 9,155 meetings, including those in the virtual lounge, generated 85,000 engagements include bookings, leads and business card exchanges; and its videos replayed more than 1,700 times.
The possibility of Covid-19 transmission when attending a physical event. A Covid-19 recovered patient who was part of the Manila delegation tested positive before the return flight to Manila, but was allowed to fly upon expert consultation who stated that the test detected remnant strains of the virus and if asymptomatic, was most likely to be noncontagious.
Contact tracing and swab tests who were in proximity of the recovered individual were done regardless, where all tests returned negative.
There were also glitches in the Internet connection, due to the increased Internet usage across the country. This at times, disrupted the viewing on social media and on the website.
Managing the different timezones for the show was also a problem. On the first day of the virtual B2B, sellers said there were many no shows, due to the different timezones and some buyers receiving the meeting schedule late. But sellers shared that things improved on day two, where night meetings held with longhaul buyers went smoothly.
Event 19th Philippine Tourism Exchange (Phitex) 2020
Organiser Tourism Promotions Board of the Philippine Department of Tourism
Venue Panglao Island, Bohol
Dates September 22-25, 2020
Attendance 122 foreign buyers from 34 countries, and 345 Philippine sellers from 161 tourism enterprises