I am currently on a work-from-home set-up… although, well, I am not technically home as of this moment. I have been staying in a hotel in Angeles City, Pampanga for 11 days now. And no, no — I am not on vacation. Or, well, I may be on vacation, but not entirely.
As we are in a very strange time, I am pretty sure you get what I mean already.
I am on "workation", which is, obviously, a combination of "work" and "vacation". It is the total opposite of the other popular travel trend: "staycation", which suggests that a person is taking time off work while staying either at home or in a vacation hotspot. In a workation, a person is going out on vacation while also clocking in and out of their work remotely.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat told Yahoo Philippines that the Department of Tourism (DOT) has long acknowledged the workation trend, which has always been popular among freelance workers; the COVID-19 pandemic had just reintroduced the trend, especially now that many people remain on a flexible remote work set-up.
People have also been realizing that while working from home seems more ideal than working on-site, there are times when they cannot work in their homes for a long period of time because of a wide variety of factors — having unhealthy family dynamics and loud neighbors, for instance, makes an unconducive work environment.
“The pandemic transformed our lifestyle, making it possible for us to work in an environment that we prefer. This contributes to our mental health, especially at this time when our minds and emotions have been adversely affected by the pandemic,” Puyat said.
“The pandemic transformed our lifestyle, making it possible for us to work in an environment that we prefer. This contributes to our mental health, especially at this time when our minds and emotions have been adversely affected by the pandemic.”Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat
Needless to say, the workation trend, most likely, is helping the travel industry to recover; after all, it is not a secret anymore that the tourism sector is one of the most heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as foreign and domestic travels have been discouraged since last year.
To put it simply: the workation trend is embraced by working individuals. I am embracing it, my fellow digital nomads are embracing it, and so should the hospitality industry.
Adapting to the workation trend
Numbers shared by Puyat showed that the Philippines’s tourism sector recorded the highest numbers in terms of foreign arrivals, domestic trips, tourism revenue, and employment in 2019. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they saw a dramatic decline of 82.05% in foreign arrivals (from 8.26 million in 2019 to only 1.48 million in 2020) and of 77.9% in domestic trips (from 109 million in 2019 to just 24 million the next year). Employment in tourism also decreased from 5.72 million employed tourism workers in 2019 to only 4.68 million in 2020 — an 18.2% decline. The share of employment in tourism to total employment in the country was 11.9%.
But with the increasing popularity of the workation trend, accommodation establishments such as tourist inns, pension houses, motels, bed-and-breakfast, and vacation homes are taking advantage of this phenomenon as it helps them bounce back after losing a lot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The workation trend helped us a lot!", announced Tamara Benitez, proprietor of The Nest by the Sea in Subic Bay Freeport. "Though we suffered through the pandemic, we took advantage of all the free time to upgrade our units with proper workstations in anticipation of the work-from-home boom."
Benitez admitted that while they did not have a lot of guests on times the quarantine classification in Subic gets strict, they were still fortunate to have accommodated working guests who would stay for a couple of weeks or a month for a workation.
For Nathan Dayag, owner of The Orchard, a private villa in Morong, Rizal, vacation rentals should leverage the increasing popularity of the workation trend. “People are wanting a breather after being cooped up for so long due to the pandemic. This is the perfect chance for the tourism industry to make up for the losses incurred during the height of the pandemic,” he said.
True enough, Puyat said that embracing the workation trend is one of the accommodation industry’s strategies in arresting people’s current demand to travel but not leaving any work behind.
Just as in my case, I am writing this piece on the balcony of the hotel I am staying at (across from me, I see my unit neighbor also working on his laptop on his balcony; more often than not, maybe he is on workation, too). I just clocked out of my shift in my day job; I also did most of my work for today here, in this very same spot. I decided to temporarily leave home initially for just a week because I felt I needed a change of scenery. But I had such a good first week here so I decided to stay for another week.
The workation trend helped us a lot! Though we suffered through the pandemic, we took advantage of all the free time to upgrade our units with proper workstations in anticipation of the work-from-home boom.Tamara Benitez, The Nest by the Sea
On some days I stay and work here at the hotel, but on other days I go out and explore the city. I also discovered that there are a lot of cafes in Angeles City, so I would choose a café with good Wi-Fi connection (and good coffee, too, of course) and stay and work there for the rest of the day. If you think about it, I helped not only the hotel I am staying at but also these small cafes that I (and many other digital nomads, as I later discovered) am staying and working at, too.
“While there is yet to be an exact figure on the economic contribution of this market, those undertaking ‘workations’ are contributing to the recovery of the industry since guests may book longer stays in accommodation establishments,” Puyat noted.
Both Benitez and Dayag shared to me that they are getting an increased number of inquiries from potential guests about the availability of their Wi-Fi, sockets, and tables and chairs.
Dayag shared, “We are currently in the process of upgrading the villa’s internet plan to accommodate more workation stays. The Orchard is also looking at the possibility of putting up a quiet working corner so guests can still focus on things that they have to do while also enjoying the villa’s surroundings at the same time.”
At the Nest by the Sea, meanwhile, there are USB sockets in each Nest so guests can plug their devices directly into the wall. They also provide extension cords for people with multiple devices or for those who want to work-from-hammock.
Some guests also bring their pets with them because they plan to get away from home for a long period of time. Benitez told me, "A lot of people have been looking for pet-friendly units as well, and we see our guests posting photos of themselves working with their fur babies just nearby." The picture that Benitez described to me shows just how much guests really balance work and leisure — a testament to the increasing value of work-life balance in today's very uncertain times.
Advice to vacation rental owners
The Nest by the Sea, opened in 2017, is a collection of 16 short-term rental homes of different shapes and sizes, which are scattered across Subic Bay Freeport. Currently, their collective Nests can accommodate up to 62 guests.
Their Nests range from a tiny hut to two- to three-bedroom homes good for a group of eight people. While most of their vacation rental units are traditional apartments or townhouses, others are rather more quirky and hip; you may opt to stay in a Kombi Camper, an A-frame hut, a loft, or a tiny home.
"We just built houses that we thought would be useful for guests," said Benitez who also dabbles as an underwater cinematographer. "We offer bigger weekly and monthly discounts for guests who want to stay longer, so we hope this will convince people to get out of the city, just for peace of mind. It is really great to look up from your laptop and see the forest canopy right out your window!"
The Orchard is a lot smaller and intimate, just as how Dayag designed it to be: inspired from the private villas in tropical hotspots Bali, Indonesia and Maldives, yet still integrating the Filipino’s affinity for reunions and family gatherings. Dayag had recently just opened the Orchard just last month, heeding to the call for private vacation rentals given today’s pandemic situation.
“In contrast to the usual pool houses with a lot of rooms, our villa is designed for smaller groups, specifically 10 to 12 people at a given time. This provides for a more intimate experience while also taking into consideration the need for social distancing,” Dayag explained.
While relatively new, Dayag shared to me that he is already receiving inquiries from potential guests who would want to book his villa for a workation. He said, “I get a lot of inquiries for workation stays because our place provides cheaper rates on weekdays. I get questions regarding our area’s internet connection, wireless signal, and the availability of desks and chairs.”
I get a lot of inquiries for workation stays... I get questions regarding our area’s internet connection, wireless signal, and the availability of desks and chairs.Nathan Dayag, The Orchard
The workation trend surely helps both the tourism and labor sectors, too, as a booming travel industry provides more employment opportunities and stable livelihoods. “Workation need not be heavily regulated as long as present accreditation by DOT and housing rental regulations are in place within the local government units,” Puyat said.
Currently, the Office of Tourism Standards and Regulation’s Standards Development Division is undertaking the review and updating of the Progressive Accreditation System that was implemented in 2018, which allows for graduated and progressive levels of accreditation — from Basic to Regular to Premium Accreditation.
“The accreditation entitles accommodation establishments to tourism-related training and seminars by the Department, participation in the marketing and promotional programs of the Tourism Promotions Board, and endorsement to other government agencies or organizations for development projects,” Puyat explained. “It further enables them to operate even during a state of public health emergency.”
Aside from accreditation, establishments may also consider applying for a DOT stamp or certification such as the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Safe Travels Stamp and Safety Seal Certification. This recognizes the establishment’s adoption of health and hygiene global standardized protocols that will ensure safe travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Puyat noted, “As a user of the stamp, DOT assumes the role of a Safe Travels ambassador to its stakeholders, advocating the implementation and full compliance of protocols in tourism enterprises and issuing respective WTTC Safe Travels Stamp to tourism entities and destinations compliant with its health and safety protocols.”
Additionally, DOT is issuing authority under the Safety Seal Certification Program, which was created to ensure compliance with the minimum public health standards. Currently, establishments issued with a Safety Seal are allowed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to operate at an additional 10% capacity on top of the existing capacities at various community quarantine or alert levels.
The future of workation
The COVID-19 pandemic has ultimately revolutionized the work set-up across the world, paving the way for new flexible work arrangements; the tourism sector would not want to miss the ride.
“With the ongoing push for vaccination and with intrazonal and interzonal mobility slowly easing up — such as the point-to-point travel for leisure guests — employees in flexible work arrangements may find more convenience in a work set-up,” said Puyat. “With the swift rise of global digitalization and work-life balance becoming a primary concern for working individuals, workation is likely here to stay and be part of tourism offerings by destinations.”
Dayag is also just as hopeful. “The current situation has shown us that a lot of things that people used to do in communal spaces — like an office — can actually be done remotely. Given all these new possibilities revealed to us by the pandemic, and the affordances of modern technology, I know that workation is here to stay and will greatly boost our tourism industry.”
With the swift rise of global digitalization and work-life balance becoming a primary concern for working individuals, workation is likely here to stay and be part of tourism offerings by destinations.Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat
Meanwhile, Benitez of the Nest by the Sea said that as the remote work set-up has its pros, it has its fair share of its cons, too.
"The biggest problem I have seen is that it has become so easy to access anyone at any time, and that should not be the case. We all need our downtime," she said. "But the service industry does not sleep." Benitez said that they plan to expand to Batangas and Baler soon.
This is also the same case of my best friend. She moved here to Angeles City a couple of years ago and has since opened several businesses. Although lately, she has been planning to enter the accommodation industry, too, by transforming their plot of land in Floridablanca, Pampanga into a bed-and-breakfast, where she intends to target the digital nomads who would like to go on workation.
It may just be a wise decision. After all, DOT is already seeing a slow but steady rise in travelers visiting reopened destinations. The increasing number of vaccinated individuals have contributed to easing travel restrictions in more destinations, thus enticing more people to travel to different parts of the country.
Puyat also shared that the tourism department is currently boosting domestic tourism, particularly, to jumpstart the economy by constantly recalibrating and creating new products and tourism circuits across the country.
“With all that in consideration, we are hopeful that the confidence of traveling once again will be restored and tourism can bounce back to recovery while adapting to the new normal of travel,” she added.
Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications in the Philippines. He covers societies, cultures, and gender.