Typhoon HaiyanIn the wake of the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the travel industry last week raced to establish or join relief efforts and to ensure that the country does not suffer a secondary blow to its economy from a drop-off in tourism dollars.

Among the worst storms on record, Haiyan likely killed between 2,000 and 2,500 people, Philippines President Benigno Aquino said last week. That estimate, if accurate, is much lower than the initial 10,000 people thought to have perished in the storm, but it describes an epic disaster nonetheless.

The United Nations has reported that more than 11 million Filipinos have been affected, and some 673,000 were displaced.

One of the cities most damaged when Haiyan hit on Nov. 8 was Tacloban, the capital of Leyte and a popular tourist destination.

Even so, the Philippines Department of Tourism last week stated that popular destinations throughout the southwestern islands, where the storm made landfall, remained accessible to tourists.

The country’s three main international airports, in Manila, Visayas and Mindanao, reopened on Nov. 11, after hundreds of flights had been grounded during the storm’s surge.

“The Philippines remains a safe and fun destination for all tourists,” the country’s tourism officials said in a statement. “Tourism activities … remain in operation in the other parts of the Philippines.”

Outpouring of support

In the immediate aftermath of Haiyan, travel companies began setting up relief funds and advising clients how they could help in the massive recovery effort.

G Adventures, which recently introduced the Philippines as a travel destination, and its nonprofit foundation, Planeterra, have partnered with Architecture for Humanity to raise funds to support the long-term reconstruction of the devastated regions.

Donations can be made at Planeterra.org. G Adventures is covering administrative costs so that 100% of donations can go directly to rebuilding communities, schools and clinics, and to mobilizing teams on the ground to help victims. The tour operator will match dollar for dollar up to $30,000, at a maximum of $5,000 per donation.

As of last Thursday, G Adventures had already raised more than 80% of its $25,000 goal.

In response to the disaster, an Australian company, Intrepid Travel, launched Philippines Disaster Appeal. All donations were being channeled through the company’s Intrepid Foundation for Red Cross aid efforts. Intrepid Travel is matching donations dollar for dollar, up to $20,000.

Lufthansa Airlines dispatched an Airbus A340 to Manila on Nov. 11 with 27 tons of emergency aid onboard. The goods were handed off to the humanitarian aid organization World Vision for distribution.

Healing found in tourism dollars

Haiyan struck just as the Philippines had been experiencing strong growth in international tourism. Between January and August this year, the country welcomed 3.8 million visitors, an 11.3% increase over the same period last year.

The U.S. remains the second-largest tourism market for the Philippines after Korea, with arrivals for the first eight months of 2013 growing 2.5%, to 458,000 visitors, according to the Philippines Department of Tourism.

“Over the last few years, we have seen a pickup in the Philippines on the radar of the early adapters of travel destinations, the backpackers,” said Jeff Russill, vice president of innovation at G Adventures.

Russill said that when he first visited the Philippines in 1996, he was “blown away.” The destination offers world-class snorkeling and diving along its coral reefs. There are also sites such as the ancient rice-terraced villages of Ifugao, natural wonders like the Chocolate Hills and prime caves and lagoons for kayaking and exploring.

Now, Russill said, “Years of momentum in demand for the destination could be lost.”

G Adventures’ current Philippines itineraries are proceeding on schedule, including a full group at the end of November.

“That tour will inject approximately $40,000 into the local economy, benefiting local businesses and people,” Russill said.

Indeed, the country’s tourism department implored travelers to continue to spend tourism dollars in the country, thus “playing a significant role in rebuilding lives and businesses in communities. We rely on our partners, both in the private and public sectors, to embark on initiatives that will help us achieve normalcy and sustain the tourism growth, particularly in the affected destinations.”

Photo of a wrecked wooden building on the island of Boracay courtesy of Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock.com. 

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