Travel restrictions hit offline ESL schools

BESIDES the cancellations of big meetings and conventions, the Department of Tourism (DOT) 7 also sees a temporary slowdown in the volume of foreign students who want to learn English in Cebu due to the Covid-19 global outbreak.

“Naigo gyud ta sa ESL (English as Second Language),” said DOT 7 Director Shahlimar Tamano.

Cebu is a dominant ESL player in the Philippines. It first offered services to Koreans, and eventually diversified to include other non-English speaking markets like Japan and most recently, Taiwan, which has been the fastest growing ESL market to date.

“Total arrivals from Taiwan in 2019 grew 60 percent from 2018,” he said.

On Feb. 11, Taiwan was previously included in the travel ban that was initially imposed on China and its special administrative regions because it is also being used as a transit port by passengers from mainland China. But the ban on travel to and from Taiwan was lifted three days after as measures to prevent the Covid-19 are being strictly implemented by Taiwan.

But the travel ban is still in place for China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Tamano clarified that ESL schools that accept foreign students to study in Cebu are the ones directly hit by the travel restrictions caused by the virus outbreak.

The Philippine government also imposed travel restrictions for travelers from South Korea, particularly from Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province.

An ESL student normally stays for at least a week for an ESL course, while some stay in the country for three months. But Tamano said they don’t only come here to study as they also go around Central Visayas, visiting tourism spots.

There are more than 100 ESL schools in Cebu, catering to both online and offline foreign students.

Cebu IT-BPM Organization Foundation Inc. managing director Wilfredo Sa-a, in a separate interview, said it is the online ESL market that will be thriving amid the global Covid-19 health crisis.

Sa-a said online ESL players may take advantage of the temporary closure of schools overseas.

“This is an advantage especially for those who are into home-based and long distance learning,” he said.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Thursday, Feb. 27, ordered the closure of schools through spring vacation in a bid to contain the virus.

Abe’s announcement will affect 12.8 million students at about 34,800 schools nationwide, according to Japan’s education ministry.

“The coming week or two is an extremely important time,” Abe said, in a report. “This is to prioritize the health and safety of the children and take precautions to avoid the risk of possible large-scale infections.”

Meanwhile, Sa-a assured that the Covid-19 outbreak will not affect the information technology-business process management industry.

“Generally, unlike the tourism or the hospitality industry, we are not affected. Those industries are dependent on arrivals of tourists while we are not. We are on outsourced jobs so as long as our workers are healthy, we will not be affected that much,” he said. (JOB with KOC )