Exclusive Interview of Liz Ortiguera, CEO of PATA

 Friday, January 14, 2022 


“Travel is a force for good -particularly in Asia. It has always been an engine for jobs creation and growth, and will continue to deliver on this post-pandemic.” 

In an exclusive interview with Travel And Tour World, Liz Ortiguera, Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) shares her views on how pandemic is reshaping the travel industry and plans to restart Asia-Pacific tourism industry.

Travel And Tour World: What are the challenges PATA faced in COVID-19 time? And How PATA is working to fight against COVID19 variant Omicron?

Liz Ortiguera: PATA’s membership network is represented by the public and private sector comprising the entire travel ecosystem – Destination governments (national, provincial and city level), MNC’s, consultancies, SMEs, universities, etc.  Certainly everyone in the sector and beyond has been impacted.   Our members’ challenges are certainly our challenges since we’re here to support their sustainable and responsible growth. But with every challenge comes opportunity and innovation – I believe the pandemic, while ongoing as a challenge, does have silver linings that open opportunity and promote positive industry outcomes.  

PATA had traditionally been a very events-focussed association – like most global businesses we’ve adapted to a hybrid (virtual + physical meeting) model to connect.  While we all prefer to meet in-person and in-destination – there is a power to balancing both formats which is required moving forward. 

As PATA, we have been executing on an 8-Point Plan with various initiatives to support our members and the industry recovery.  One particular initiative was just co-launched with Collinson and Virgin Atlantic to mobilize the travel sector and beyond to support WHO/COVAX’s efforts and the drive for vaccine equity. We call it the Global Travel Sector Vaccine Coalition.  The top 10 wealthiest nations have had the privilege of consuming 80% of the vaccines globally.  We will continue to have variants like Omicron emerge – most likely in less privileged destinations – because of their limited access to vaccines.  While wealthy nations are focussed on boosters, much of the world is still waiting on first doses – this inequity has to be addressed.  No one is safe until everyone is safe.  This is foundational to global recovery.   We would encourage more travel industry players to get involved – either through a transaction-linked micro-donation campaign ($5=one vaccine), corporate donation or awareness campaigns to name a few options.    

Travel And Tour World:  What are your plans to restart Asia-Pacific tourism industry in post COVID-19 era?

Liz Ortiguera: As I had mentioned, last year we launched an 8-Point Plan to support our members and the industry at large. The needs are great and varied – so we have taken a multi-level approach to delivering support. These initiatives included:

As we enter 2022, we are committed to:

Travel And Tour World: Share with us about your planning for 2022 tourism? Also share with us about the objectives of PATA Annual Summit 2022.

Liz Ortiguera: In addition to the initiatives mentioned, we will be continuing to support our member destinations in their destination management (Tourism Destination Resilience Programme) and destination marketing initiatives. 

During the PATA Annual Summit we’ll be addressing several key topics:

Travel And Tour World: In your opinion, how will the global travel and tourism industry evolve in the future years?

Liz Ortiguera: The industry will recover and Asia-Pacific markets will again fuel the growth through the rise of developing nations and the sheer buying power of having 60% of the world’s population.  While both positive and negative elements will return and evolve – we’re at a pivotal time to really influence the degree to which the positive elements can guide recovery.   On the negative side, the current pent-up demand can result in over-tourism and the deterioration of destinations.  Now is the time to conduct risk assessments and lay the foundation with sustainable capacity-building to avoid that issue.  There are many positive trends triggered by the pandemic – globally, people are prioritizing reconnecting with family and friends [visiting family and friends (VFR)] as a first priority and there’s an increased interest in wellness and nature-based tourism.   The ongoing pandemic and myriad of travel requirements is driving the interest and need for longer, more multi-purpose journeys. Travel is now more valued and rarified – a throwback to the era when travel was more celebrated and appreciated versus commoditized. 

Travel And Tour World: As COVID-19 variant Omicron has devastated the travel and its related industry, it becomes a hindrance for employment generation. Can you please tell us how this can be minimise and develop towards better and bright future?

Liz Ortiguera: Actually, what the industry is experiencing is an uneven mix of understaffing and underemployment. 

Pre-Omicron, many destinations in the US and Europe had been experiencing a lack of staffing.  I observed this directly in hospitality, F&B and airport services.   At the same time, many destinations in Asia that are only partially open, have a dire need to get travel industry workers back into employment. 

PATA has piloted an Informal Workers Program in Thailand across four destinations.   We worked with 500 individuals in the most impacted segment of low income, casual workers to understand their needs and provide health and safety training as well as jobs counselling to help them adapt to immediate wage opportunities.  Travel is a force for good – particularly in Asia. It has always been an engine for jobs creation and growth, and will continue to deliver on this post-pandemic. 

Prior to joining PATA, I worked with an EdTech startup.  The Singapore Govt leveraged our mobile micro-learning platform to deploy continuing education courses to travel, hospitality and F&B staff members as a form of pandemic support relief.  Impacted travel industry members were able to learn new skills to cross-skill or reskill.

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