‘Safe destinations’ to be identified
MANILA, Philippines — A pioneer in the tourism industry is urging the Department of Tourism (DOT) to convene a national tourism congress to discuss the programs and plans to address the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the sector, emphasizing the critical role of tourism to the country’s economy.
In a letter addressed to Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Rajah Tours International chair Alejandra Clemente recommended the DOT assemble a national tourism congress composed of government offices involved in the development of tourism with major players in the private sector.
“This meeting could lay the groundwork on the national level for a set of programs and plan of actions to combat the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (which has) caused incalculable damage to the industry,” Clemente said.
Latest data from the DOT show that estimated inbound tourism revenues for the first half of the year plunged 66.7 percent to P81.05 billion from P243 billion in the same period last year, as travel restrictions remain in place amid the pandemic. In addition, international visitor arrivals during the period dropped 68 percent to 1.3 million.
Clemente added that the national tourism congress can guide the Interagency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) in coming out with decisions moving towards the normalization of the tourism industry.
“During the tourism congress it can map out its plan on the use of the Contingency Fund set under Republic Act. No. 9593 equivalent to 10 percent of the promotions and marketing funds to be allocated and set aside by the TPB (Tourism Promotions Board) to be used to address the adverse effects of emergencies like COVID-19,” Clemente said.
In addition, Clemente said the tourism congress should also discuss the responsibility of the DOT to extend financial assistance by creating a crisis fund as well as exerting effort to get financial assistance through loans or donations for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), especially for tour operators and travel agencies.
“There is no doubt very few or none of this sector can survive without the help of the government,” Clemente stressed.
In response, Puyat expressed gratitude for Clemente’s suggestions.
“We take note of your recommendation to convene a National Tourism Congress and will look further into this with the other government agencies that may be involved,” Puyat said.
“We are truly grateful for your endless support through graciously sharing with us your wisdom and expertise as one of the leaders of the Philippine tourism industry. Rest assured that the DOT, with the guidance of industry pillars like you, will continue to exert its best efforts in extending assistance to our stakeholders as we gear up for the reopening of tourism in the country,” she added.
Meanwhile, Clemente also emphasized the need for more discussion on the critical economic value of the tourism industry.
Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) show that the tourism industry is a key driver of the Philippine economy as it contributed 12.7 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) as well as 13.5 percent to total employment in 2019.
“This is a staggering number, which means the shrinking in the economy can be arrested if tourism will be given attention and support by the national leadership, particularly by the Department of Finance and the DOT,” Clemente said.
“When the Tourism Act was enacted in 2009, the sustainability of the growth of the industry was ensured by creating sources of revenue, which should now be used, especially in this crisis. It is an industry that will take two to three years to recover and turn around,” she added.
“The DOT recognizes the need for a more thorough discussion of the economic impact of the pandemic on tourism that will directly affect the industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP,” Puyat said in response.
Clemente noted that as long as the major destinations are totally closed and with the number of COVID cases on the rise, not even domestic tourism will have a chance to restart.
Replying to the said recommendations, Puyat emphasized that the DOT and TPB have completed a framework for identifying safe destinations all over the country and will soon meet its regional offices to cascade criteria in the identification of destinations targeted to jumpstart tourism as the industry transitions to the New Normal.
“We will consider these destinations under the concept of Travel Bubbles that are areas proven to have contained the spread of the virus and have attained the support of LGUs (local government units), industry stakeholders and host communities, then match them with markets from destinations of similar scenarios,” Puyat said.
She added that the DOT’s regional offices have met with the Tourism Congress of the Philippines and the Philippine Tour Operators Association and provided updates on the status of destinations in terms of the implementation of new health and safety guidelines and the openness of the LGUs and locals in restarting tourism.
Other recommendations made by Clemente include moving towards the partial or full reopening of destinations so that programs can be launched for domestic and/or international markets as well as the identification of destinations whose local governments and local tourism councils and related tourism associations are willing to sit down and map out their recovery. She also suggested the adoption of a bottom-up strategy wherein a municipality that relies on tourism can initiate its respective recovery plan.
Clemente also recommended that the DOT come out with an action plan and put more definitive schedules to its Tourism Response and Recovery Plan as guidelines to be followed by the major business enterprises involved in the travel industry.
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