PLDT and Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) continue to be at the forefront of championing digital innovations that can help jump-start the Philippines’ tourism sector. The industry has taken a blow after the government imposed varying degrees of quarantine that limited people movement.
At the recently held Leadership Excellence Series of the Department of Tourism, Catherine Yap-Yang, First Vice President and Group Head of Corporate Communications at PLDT and Smart, urged the government to work with the private sector in exploring innovative solutions to reboot the sector.
“The time is now to hyper-collaborate on capacity building sessions, and which we hope we could carry on and in partnership with other stakeholders here in the industry, in pursuing digital tourism initiatives in your respective areas of responsibility,” said Yap-Yang. “Innovation is key. Our digital tourism program validates that many transactions involving tourism sector players can be facilitated online. We would like to urge everyone to partner with us for solutions and services that would jumpstart tourism in the new normal.“
Launched in 2012, PLDT and Smart’s digital tourism program is a nationwide initiative that harnesses technology to deliver tourism, cultural, and historical information about heritage sites using mobile applications.
“It’s this eight-year head start that has given us the leadership in this space, the pandemic acting as the catalyst that would bring our customers to pivot online, giving us an opportunity to ramp up adoption to deliver tourism safely – digitally. We’re with you throughout and beyond the pandemic – offering digital tourism solutions that will allow contactless, self-paced travel once tourism restrictions are lifted,” added Yap-Yang.
The program offers an interactive platform that creates an engaging experience for tourists using their mobile phones, while limiting physical contact with people and common touch points.
It involves the creation of tourism apps and the installation of interactive markers powered by quick response (QR) codes and near field communication (NFC) technology in selected tourist and heritage landmarks to trigger the download of more information.
Recently, PLDT and Smart, together with Cebu-based InnoPub Media, supported the celebration of the 500 years of Christianity that enabled the Catholic faithful to mark this important milestone through digital catechism. As part of the commemoration of the quincentenary of Christianity in the country, the Archdiocese of Cebu linked up with PLDT, Smart, and InnoPub Media to unveil the “Panaw sa Pagtuo (Journey of Faith)” mobile exhibit app.
The mobile app makes use of QR codes and virtual reality (VR) devices to allow visitors to experience Cebu’s religious treasures in one setting. The QR codes provide depth and context to the exhibit with rich multimedia content while virtual reality videos transport guests to Cebu’s grand stone churches.
The digital exhibit highlights the many expressions of the Catholic faith, from the gift of the Sto. Nino image during the first baptism into the faith of Cebuano chieftain Rajah Humabon, his wife, and their followers to the images, paintings, and carvings that adorn houses of worship in the Visayan province.
PLDT and Smart’s digital tourism program has also boosted the tourism efforts of partner-LGUs even in the middle of the pandemic. The initiative has allowed travelers all over the world to “see” and “visit” new and exciting Philippine destinations safely, from the comfort of their homes. The travel guide apps contain information useful to visitors and students, such as historical background, local folklore and other interesting cultural trivia. The apps also list things to do and places to see. The program has been implemented in over 20 destinations across the country.
According to Yap-Yang, “reviving the country’s tourism sector calls for close cooperation between government and the private sector.” PLDT and Smart’s digital tourism program offers an opportunity for all stakeholders to get together and create a program that adapts to the unique features of a destination like what it did for the town of Boljoon in Cebu.
PLDT, Smart and InnoPub Media collaborated with Boboi Costas, an award-winning pioneer in community-based eco-tourism, and his Grassroots Travel program to launch Boljoon’s own mobile travel app.
The Boljoon Travel Guide app makes it convenient for visitors to check points of interest as well as accommodations and emergency numbers. The town prides itself of a postcard-perfect scenery featuring tall mountains, narrow plains and clear seas and the popular landmark Ili Rock, a geological formation that once served as a natural fortress against pirates.
The collaboration highlights the synergy between the private sector like PLDT and Smart and the local government. The project tapped local volunteers in mapping cultural, historical and nature tourism resources in the town. Costas, himself, trained the volunteers and held sessions to organize the community into identifying tourism resources of the town.
The companies’ digital catechism program was recognized with an Excellence Award at the 18th Philippine Quill Awards while the heritage tour series earned a Merit Award under the Communication Skills Division.
To provide the backbone for digital tourism, PLDT and Smart have expanded the reach and capacity of their fixed and mobile networks across the country to serve the increased data demands of the ‘new normal.’
Smart’s mobile network now covers 96% of the population and is available in 95% of the country’s cities and municipalities, from Batanes in the north all the way to Tawi-tawi in the south. Smart has also fired up more than 3,000 5G sites as of end May, making it the most expansive 5G network in the country, and providing the fastest mobile data service to customers nationwide.
Enabling Smart’s mobile network is PLDT’s fiber infrastructure, the most extensive in the Philippines, now at more than 478,000 kilometers as of end March this year.