It has been a turbulent year for the tourism industry given the global pandemic 2020 has brought upon us. Among the hardest hit are airlines, restaurants, tourist spots, hotels, including the Airbnb hosts and homestay owners.
The economy of Baguio City, hailed as the summer capital of the Philippines, is one that is largely dependent on tourism. The impact of lockdowns and travel restrictions brought about by COVID-19 may have clearly and thankfully protected the health of Baguio City residents, but this has also been detrimental to the city’s economic well-being and on local businesses including those of homestays.
With Baguio City reopening to tourists from Luzon, including Metro Manila, the promise of economic recovery emerges. Or so it seems. Stay tuned.
Struggles of an Airbnb Host
Le Coq Bleu, a visually stunning rustic French homestay, is a beloved Airbnb destination in Baguio that offers a respite for the city dwellers weary from quotidian activities. Sadly, it was also not spared from the crippling effect of the pandemic.
“As soon as Baguio City implemented a total lockdown around late March, the tourism industry just lost its income,” Chantal Michaut-Pangilinan, the French owner of Le Coq Bleu Homestay, begins.
“Like everybody else, I was worried because it’s such a horrible pandemic and people all over the world are dying. My home is quite isolated, away from the city proper and we’re surrounded by trees so I’m not really exposed at home. But I worry for family members and, of course, you worry for the [homestay] business. The situation is kind of scary and the worst part was losing the income. Anybody who’s into the tourism industry, hotels, F&B (food and beverage) and people at the market were all affected,” she says.
The last time Le Coq Bleu had guests was back in early March 2020, and Chantal’s guests who were supposed to be booked for the peak summer months of April and May chose to rebook for the end of the year instead.
“I gave the guests options. They’re free to cancel or rebook their reservations. They chose to rebook since they really wanted to come so I’ve had no cancellations,” Chantal shares, feeling grateful for the arrangement.
Still, on a global scale, Airbnb felt the restrictions that affected home-sharing vacation rentals. Early this year, the company laid off a number of its workforce, skipped its plan to expand services and chose to go back to basics instead: strengthening its core business model of bridging homeowners and those who would rent.
“Airbnb understood that because of COVID, we have to take precautions. But they’re not aware of local restrictions and every country has its own. The restrictions here in Baguio City are very strict. For example, when I cancelled my InstaBook feature on Airbnb, they questioned me and told me how that means my listing would no longer appear as a priority. In fairness, they asked me and I explained that we can’t allow tourists in the city back then,” she narrates.
“They still sent me my Superhost qualification and a very nice note saying that despite not having any guest, all the Superhosts will retain their Superhost status. They understand because they themselves lost millions. None of us hosts were penalized and the cancellations due to COVID wouldn’t be penalized as well,” she says. Airbnb defines Superhosts as “experienced hosts who provide a shining example for other hosts and extraordinary experiences for their guests”.
Airbnb has since issued health and safety requirements and created a set of mandatory safety practices for both the hosts and guests of Airbnb listings, based on guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She went on to ruminate about the fate of Baguio and its tourism industry.
“I’m not sure about the statistics but I would say 80% of Baguio rely on tourists. But in a way, we’re lucky because compared to places like maybe Palawan, we rely on local tourists. It’s not like other places where visitors are mostly foreign tourists. I mean, I’m lucky I don’t have staff and I’m not paying rent or anything, so I can manage. The total loss of income was really the major challenge here. There’s nobody coming in and people still have bills to pay,” Chantal says.
Baguio recently announced that the city’s “Ridge to Reef” travel bubble program has now expanded to cater to travelers from all of Luzon which started on October 22. Only 500 visitors per day will be allowed. Le Coq Bleu was able to obtain an important certificate of compliance issued by the city government of Baguio.
“All local accommodations must get a certificate of compliance. We have an amazing Mayor (Benjamin Magalong). We’re very grateful that he cares a lot about what happens to the city, its citizens and also to the economy of Baguio,” Chantal says.
Officials from the city hall came to Le Coq Bleu to check the place. The establishment was required to provide guests with PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment like masks and face shields), put up signs on proper handwashing and use of PPEs, as well as social distancing reminders. City Hall guidelines also require a separate trash can for PPEs.
“We need to open up Baguio because we’re running out of money. As long as hindi ka pasaway na turista because it’s very strict in Baguio. Measures are being very well-implemented. Tourists are monitored and tracked constantly. Baguio tourism has two kinds of options: you can have a staycation or you can go to tourist sites with an accredited tourist guide to help control the number of people within a site,” she shares.
As an Airbnb Superhost and homestay owner, Chantal seeks to promote staycation where guests can enjoy a unique and relaxing French countryside-like stay at her home.
“I’m trying to promote our place also to Baguio people for a weekend away from the family or if a couple needs a romantic getaway and have a relaxing time away from the children. My guests have always been for a very specific, special group of people. Some are writers, people studying for the bar or a licensure exam. I cater to people who want quiet time,” Chantal explains.
Chantal shares that in the United States, there is a growing trend of travelers choosing to stay in an Airbnb or homestay because they feel it’s safer. There is privacy and less contact and exposure to other people when one books a homestay instead of booking a hotel; though Chantal was quick to clarify that the hotels in Baguio also have excellent hygiene protocols.
“I think the beginning of the year for Airbnb was difficult, but I’m sure it will pick up again because it is a very good option to avoid contact with strangers,” she declares, her optimism growing especially with Baguio’s reopening.
Things are looking up for Airbnb as CEO Brian Chesky reported an uptick in bookings after going through a dismal performance at the start of the pandemic. This has been attributed to people looking for off-the-beaten path destinations away from the crowd.
At Le Coq Bleu, you can enjoy wine by the fireplace or a special breakfast by the arched windows
Asked on how she would encourage fellow Airbnb hosts and homestay owners, Chantal remains confident of their resilience in the face of “new normal” changes.
“I think what one can do is to promote activities that you can do within the home like nature walks, cooking classes, art classes, music…like for me, you can sit by the fireplace with a glass of wine. It’s nice to walk around our neighborhood and there’s a very good restaurant and a golf course nearby. I’m sure the Airbnb hosts are knowledgeable enough with their experience so they know what they can offer and how good their product is. You just have to be more creative,” Chantal concludes, confident that homestay owners like her would pull through and recover.
To book Le Coq Bleu:
For updated Baguio guidelines (Note: To register your booking at VisitaBaguio, click SCHEDULE A VISIT & type in “Coq Bleu Homestay”): http://visita.baguio.gov.ph/
For Airbnb Health & Safety Guidelines:
About the Writer
Grace C. Diez
Grace Diez started as an AM/FM radio traffic reporter and broadcast supervisor of Trapik.com before pursuing a 5-year career in advertising and a 9-year (and counting!) career in public relations. With 17 years of experience as a writer, her works have been published on People Asia, Metro.Style, ABS-CBN Lifestyle, Star Studio, Metro Magazine, Manila Bulletin, The Philippine Star, Working Mom, Chalk.PH, League Magazine, Sense & Style, Woman Today and Manila Standard with editors entrusting her with cover stories and CEO/celebrity profiling assignments. She loves IU, Taylor Swift, coffee, milk tea, Dr. Pepper and cookies.