Tourism with social distancing

July 28, 2020 | By: ARCH. ANTHONY P. ANDERSON (as published in The Manila Times last July 28, 2020)

WHO knows when this pandemic would end? Every reasonable person would say that this will only happen when the vaccine is made available.

When will this vaccine be available? Will it be available at all? One can visualize that at this very moment and after millions of deaths all around the world, the line between positivity and desperation is surely thin.

We come to realize the very limited time we have being in a complacent state. Until when will our government have the resources to sustain life and order amid this contagion?

It is the time when we go down on our knees to sincerely beg for divine intervention. For no one can fathom the circumstances when the definition of science literally come into play.

Puerto Princesa, “The City in a Forest” as we claim it to be, and the whole province of Palawan is directly dependent on the tourism industry. The quarantine measures implemented, such as the no-travel policy brings forth disaster to the industry and to the entire economy. People from all walks of life are adversely affected, most especially the unprivileged and disadvantageous.

Here is the thought…probably, the persisting para-phrase, for those who are affluent, — “until when.” Until when are we going to stay at home? Until when would this unfortunate incident last? Until when will I continue to incur losses in my businesses? Until when will I not be able to go to the beach? Until when…and so on and so forth. Or finally, until when will I continue to keep my sanity?

Now imagine what would the paraphrase be for the displaced and the needy, of those who are experiencing hunger, or those who have no one to turn to. When the economy collapses dead flat, chaos will inevitably follow.

Here in our humble slice of the country, the big question would be “Can’t we do tourism with social distancing?”

On a personal note, what is to be treasured at the moment, is our capacity to identify those who are infected and those who are not. So, I ask again, CAN’T WE DO tourism with social distancing?

The city council of Puerto Princesa recently passed a bill increasing the tricycle fair rate, because accordingly, in GCQ (general community quarantine) mode, this form of public transportation will only have one passenger per trip, a sure loss for the drivers and operators. How about the other economic platforms? How about the tourism industry?

The “new normal,” as we appreciate it to be, shall be the new set of rules, the new set of legislations as the situation demands. It would not be a far possibility for the provision of new set of codes for planning and design or new standards in physical development.

This is a new era in the architecture profession. It would mean having to undergo drastic changes to be able to cope with situational demands of this contagion.

In the academe, the architecture curriculum would have to be re-aligned to fit with the online mode rendering instructions. The entire physical set-up of the existing academic facilities would require alterations or operational adjustments for conformity to “social distancing.” Architects in the academe would have to be reoriented with various teaching strategies.

As a professor, I can foresee that in these trying times the need for additional classrooms or other instructional facilities would no longer be valid. The same with the ergonomic requirements for laboratory facilities such as drafting rooms and the like. The much dreaded accreditation programs of the physical facilities would not be that much of a requirement, not anymore.

In the architectural practice, architects will have to re-educate themselves to the “new normal” as new requisites in physical development. The electronic modes of professional engagement by then, will no longer be a luxury or an option, but a requirement.

Technology will become a basic necessity for the practice. Perhaps the architects in the metropolis are already evolved with this functional setup, but the architects practicing in the countryside may not be.

This coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic will bring about new challenges in the architecture profession. We, as stewards of a sustainably healthy built or natural environment, should welcome these challenges and be able to convert these unfortunate circumstances into a foresighted avenue for development.

Now, take your time to visualize the impact in the construction industry. At this juncture, I would like to share some useful personal experiences, when GCQ was just implemented in our city. Construction activity was by then permitted, so I went to buy some tiles for “Daluyon,” a prime mountain and beach resort located in the gateway of the acclaimed PPUR (Puerto Princesa Underground River). I ended up in in another DIY (Do It Yourself) store, and I couldn’t help complaining. It was too hot. The staff who was with me was quick to utter that the city government had issued a directive prohibiting the use of air conditioning units (ACU) due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Dapat maganda ang air-exchange mechanism ninyo, otherwise, mas delikado” (Your air exchange mechanisms need to be good or else, it is dangerous) were my last words as I hurriedly headed up to the cashier.

In another instance, while I was about to enter another newly-built hardware store, I was held up by the guard because a lot of customers were already inside. I was told to proceed to the waiting area. It was a small room with several people waiting. As I was about to go inside, I sensed that the ACU was operational, it was comfortably cool by the door. I turned about and opted to wait under the shade of the cantilevered canopy. Oh, how I adored that canopy in the middle the day. It was life-saving! Not to mention that it was also the smoking area.

Objectively taking into account the preceding narration, the functional setup of any physical development should be flexible enough to allow optimum performance of the intended function and stressing much consideration on human comfort and safety. The possible eventualities should form part of the design criteria formulation. This basic planning concept should be applied otherwise we can put people at risk. What will happen to all customers when the new normal will prohibit the use of the ACU systems?

It is undeniably justifying that in undertaking complex project, the right professional should be called for and that is the architect.

Imagine a resort hotel with doubly wide hallways or staircases, or even elevators; fine dining restaurants now serving a little less than half of its dining capacity, the resort casinos with only one or two players on the gambling tables; the elaborately huge infinity pools restricted for the use of the few, the motorized bancas exclusively transporting only you and your better half to and from the breathtaking island destinations of El Nido, San Vicente, or PPUR. Perhaps these magnificent tourist spots wouldn’t be crowded as before, all in the name of the new normal and social distancing.

Now, imagine the transportation system, the shopping malls that give 50 percent discount, the jeepneys, the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) stations, the inter-island planes or sea vessels, and most of all the traffic situation in the metropolis. Wouldn’t it be a better world?

I remember uttering unsound words for the Secretary of the Department of Transportation for him saying, in the local news, that the commercial flights for local tourism should commence amidst this pandemic…I would like to take it back. But I still would say to him; “the die isn’t cast yet.” When all the rules and prerequisites are in place, then we will be good to go. It’s not going to be “obey first before you complain.”

I also saw in CNN, where in some parts of the United States, people were eagerly protesting the quarantine measures implemented, waving placards with words written “let us live!!!” Would we, as critical thinkers judge them? Perhaps, one would, if it says “Let the surfers surf!!!” or “We need a break in one of the best tropical island in the world!!!”.

It has been thousands of years since mankind thrived on this planet when all hell broke loose. Humanity will continue. It is indeed an unfortunate time but it is not the time to lose our will. We should learn how to adapt and look at the silver lining, no matter what the situation may be…in that way life will go on. Sadly, many may not make it, but most will survive. Who goes and who stays isn’t our call.

Arch. Anthony P. Anderson grew up in Zamboanga City where he had his elementary and high school education in Tetuan Central School and Immaculate Conception High School, respectively. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from the University of Santo Tomas on March 27, 1996. Tony, as his friends call him, is in the process of completing his Master’s Degree in Rural Development at the Western Philippine University. He is currently a professor in the Architecture Department of Palawan State University. He is an accredited fire practitioner by the Bureau of Fire Protection, an accredited Land Investigator by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, and recognized by the Zero Carbon Resorts initiative.


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