By Ben Rosario
The Philippine ban on tourist arrivals due to the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV) threat will drastically cut revenues from the tourism industry unless the affected sector cooperates fully with government in addressing the problem.
Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones, chairperson of the House committee on tourism, said over one-fifth of tourists visiting the country are from China, which has imposed a lockdown in areas seriously affected by the nCoV outbreak.
She said the Department of Tourism (DOT) had expected at least 9.2 million foreign visitors in 2020 who will spend an estimated P661 billion while on vacation in the country.
Aragones said her committee will work closely with the House committee on economic affairs and their counterparts in the executive department to “comprehensively assess the potential effects of on-going travel restrictions on foreign tourist arrivals.”
“Given all the travel restrictions resulting from the spread of the 2019 nCoV, we may have to revisit these numbers, especially since more than a fifth of the foreign tourists who visited us last year were from China,” said the administration lawmaker.
According to her, DOT statistics showed that between January and November 2019, 22 percent of the country’s 7.4 million foreign tourists, or 1.63 million, were Chinese.
With President Duterte deciding to ban foreigners coming from China, Hong Kong, and Macau, the number of Chinese tourists will be brought down to zero.
According to Aragones, government and tourism stakeholders “need to strategize on a prudent way moving forward––one that allows us sustain livelihoods while protecting lives.”
“We have to keep in mind that the tourism industry, per PSA data, employs 5.4 million Filipinos. A broad swath of industries could be affected by the travel restrictions that will be imposed by various governments in response to this outbreak, and we have to be prepared for that,” she said.
Aragones explained that limitations on foreign travel may require the tourism sector to focus more on promoting domestic tourism in order to offset possible slowdowns in foreign arrivals.
“The tourism revenue target for 2020, overall, is P4.45 trillion, with domestic tourism receipts expected to reach P3.79 trillion. We may need to work overtime to make up the difference as foreign governments take additional precautions to prevent the spread of 2019 nCov.”
The solon emphasized that whatever measures to be adopted by the tourism sector moving forward “must always factor in public health considerations,” and urged the Department of Health and the whole country to continue efforts to promote the behaviors and practices necessary to stop the virus in its tracks.
“A sure way to mitigate the economic impact of this virus, particularly to the tourism industry, is to contain it and to ensure that it does not spread. The sooner we can do this, the sooner everyone will be able to safely travel, here and abroad.”