SAN JUAN: After months locked in coronavirus-stricken Manila, Tanya Mariano fled the Philippine capital to work from the beach, joining a growing number of digital nomads helping a devastated tourism industry stay afloat.
The ban on foreign holidaymakers from entering the archipelago country and restrictions on domestic travel since the pandemic began last year have forced many operators to shut down and cut millions of jobs.
Many digital workers in cluttered Manila, fearing COVID-19 and fed up with lockdowns and restrictions, escape to largely deserted nature hotspots to do their jobs – pumping much-needed cash into communities dependent on external visitors.
Sitting with her laptop on the balcony of the ocean-view apartment she rents in San Juan, a surf town several hours north of her home, Mariano says the move was a “big improvement. quality of life “.
“Being close to the ocean, being close to nature is very calming,” said Mariano, 37, a freelance writer and communications specialist.
“When I’m in a meeting, usually Zoom or Google Meet, I try not to use the beach as a background – I just show people the wall so they don’t hate me.”
There are no official figures on the number of people working remotely from the country’s postcard beaches and dive sites, but it is certainly a fraction of the millions of tourists who typically flock to its shores.
The impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions on the industry has been dramatic: $ 37 billion has been cut from the economy and the loss of more than two million jobs, according to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Bravo Beach Resort on the southern island of Siargao – a renowned surfing destination – felt the pain keenly.
Normally packed with local and international tourists, it now accommodates an average of five to ten guests at a time, or about 10% of its capacity, said managing director Dennis Serrano.
With the resort hemorrhaging as much as 200,000 pesos ($ 4,180) per month, he hopes the situation will be “back to normal” by next year.
Even the white-sands resort island of Boracay has become a “ghost town,” according to Eugene Flores, manager of boutique hotel La Banca House, where many of the rooms are filled with longtime digital nomads from Manila.
Official figures show arrivals to the island fell to less than 335,000 last year, up from more than 2 million in 2019.
“When you go out, you can see shops, you can see restaurants, you can see hotels that are really closed. Only a few are open, ”said Flores. The frigid pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the country is likely to delay the full reopening of the country’s beleaguered tourism industry.
For now, digital nomads are a “target market,” the tourism ministry said, encouraging resorts and hotels to cater to the “new breed” of travelers by offering fast internet access and fun activities. well-being.
The influx of mobile workers, whose wages in Manila extend further into the provinces, keeps companies like the Papa Bear restaurant in San Juan afloat.
“You don’t bleed completely, you still bleed, but you at least generate something to make up for it enough,” said owner Denny Antonino.
Digital nomads now make up 30-40% of his customers and he hopes the trend continues after the pandemic to even out seasonal fluctuations.
“They are able to do their job, but between meetings they can surf, hike, go to the falls – there’s more to do,” said Antonino.