After months in cramped conditions in a Philippine capital plagued by the coronavirus, Tanya Mariano has decided to go telework in a city of surfers, like a growing number of “digital nomads” whose exodus is a godsend for hard-pressed tourism professionals.
It has been over a year since foreigners can travel to the Philippines, and drastic restrictions exist for travel within the archipelago.
But many people working online have decided to leave the capital – as much for fear of contamination as for weariness with regard to restrictions – to take refuge in deserted tourist villages on the coast.
Sitting on the balcony of the sea-view apartment she rents with her partner in San Juan, a surf town several hours north of Manila, Tanya Mariano describes a “huge improvement in her quality of life” thanks to this seafaring exile.
“Being near the ocean, close to nature is very calming,” explains this 37-year-old communicator and writer.
– Boracay “ghost” –
“When I’m in a meeting, on Zoom or Google Meet, I try not to put the beach in the background,” she smiles. “I put my back to a wall so they don’t hate me.”
No official figures exist for the number of people who have gone to work near the Philippines’ dream beaches. But this is obviously only a fraction of the number of tourists who normally enter the archipelago.
The pandemic has been devastating for the local tourism sector, which lost $ 37 billion in 2020 due to travel restrictions, according to figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). He estimates that two million jobs have been cut.
The Bravo Beach Resort, on the island of Siargao in the south, has been like many places hard hit.
This very famous surf spot is normally taken by storm by Filipino and foreign tourists. It now accommodates between five and ten people at a time on average, or about 10% of its capacity, according to its manager Dennis Serrano.
For him, it is a shortfall of 200,000 pesos (3,500 euros) per month. So he hopes for a “return to normal” next year.
Even the island of Boracay, famous the world over for its white sandy beaches, has become a “ghost town”, according to Eugene Flores, manager of the La Banca House hotel, most of whose rooms now house in long stay of digital nomads from the capital.
Official statistics show that arrivals to the island fell to less than 335,000 last year, compared to more than two million in 2019.
“When you go out, you see shops, restaurants, hotels closed,” says Flores. “Few of the places are open.”
And the slowness of the vaccination campaign in the Philippines risks delaying the recovery of the tourism sector.
In this context, digital nomads are a “target” for the sector, recognizes the Ministry of Tourism, which encourages hotels to accommodate these travelers of a new kind in the best conditions, by offering them a good internet connection but also , wellness activities.
– Visio on the beach –
The arrival of these itinerant workers from the capital, who in turn benefit from greater purchasing power in the provinces, allows certain businesses to remain afloat, such as the Papa Bear restaurant in San Juan.
“You are not totally bled dry, you bleed for sure, but at least you generate some income,” says Denny Antonino, owner of the restaurant.
These digital nomads represent 30 to 40% of his clientele and he hopes that they will take the fold of returning even after the pandemic, in order to cope with the seasonal fluctuations in his activity.
“They can work and, during their breaks, go surfing, go hiking, go see the waterfalls,” he lists.
Nine months after leaving his “prison”, as he describes his apartment in Manila’s financial district, Carlo Almendral says he has no intention of returning to the capital.
This general manager of a start-up in the field of artificial intelligence begins his days with a bike ride in the countryside, if the waves are not there to go surfing.
He ends them with a video meeting on the beach at sunset with a glass of wine and Alfred, his bulldog.
“I didn’t realize, before arriving here, how much time I was wasting worrying about the pandemic,” explains the 43-year-old man, whose office is now a studio on the top floor with a sea view. ” By being here, I am more productive, and more creative. “