Of Covid-19 and tourism

Published March 12, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

Fil C. Sionil
Fil C. Sionil

The first time I met her was 19 years ago. She was the pro bono head executive assistant of her father, former Sen. Alberto Romulo, now chairman of the Development Bank of the Philippines. She was 29 then. Though, she inherited a larger-than-life surname, it was further enriched when she married a scion of an illustrious family.

“I’m insomniac! That’s why I married a Puyat (stay awake until the wee hours of the morning),” Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat said as she munched the local delicacy – puto bongbong. The Department of Tourism (DOT) the past weekend hosted a night golf tournament in Club Intramuros Golf Course (CIGC) as part of its marketing strategy to promote domestic tourism. While sleep remains elusive, Sec. Berna spends her time reviewing documents that need to be signed. “I get to sleep at about 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. I normally wake up at 8 a.m. or it depends if I need to wake up earlier.”

Secretary Berna is a widow. Her husband was David Puyat, a bar topnotcher, whose family owned Manila Banking Corp. The blue and white marquee of Manila Bank folded up in 2007 when it was purchased by China Bank. Mr. Dave, who was the bank senior vice president and corporate secretary, was fetched by his angels to join the largest banking community up there 10 years ago while playing soccer.

Bubbly, energetic, and cool best personify Sec. Berna. Characteristics that suit well for the cabinet portfolio which, she said came a bit of a surprise. She was enjoying and doing well as agriculture undersecretary, which brought her all over the country, assisting and tending to the needs of farmers.

As DOT secretary, Berna is bothered like most of us on the ill-effects of COVID-19, especially now that the World Health Organization has declared the situation as pandemic. Understandably, the pandemic has created panic and paranoia. The economic upheaval has sent global financial markets to bear status, local market included.

Seemingly undaunted by the enormity of challenges and risks caused by COVID-19 here, Sec. Berna and her DOT family have drawn up ways to promote instead domestic tourism. “We had plans of opening this (night golf) even before COVID-19 as a new product to offer to domestic and foreign guests. The Intramuros golf course, with its night golf facilities, is a convenient, accessible, and welcome alternative for golf players living in the metro,” she said.

In consideration of the current situation, Sec. Berna said DOT has allocated P85 million for COVID-19 orientation, preparedness, response, and protocols for industry stakeholders.

DOT is allocating approximately P6 billion for international and domestic promotions, infrastructure, and regional tourism development. Specifically, ₱421 million will bankroll a new campaign for domestic travel; ₱467 million to create engaging content that will resonate with emerging economies unaffected by COVID-19. And some ₱400 million has been set aside to help local government units in developing their own tourism masterplans.

She is updated on current trend including Korean telenovela. She has watched “Crash Landed on You,” Netflix’s top pick in recent week. “I watch my K-drama when I’m caught in traffic, when my flights are delayed, or inside the airplane. I am currently watching Goblin.”

She decribed herself as “an empty nester.” Her son Vito, 23, lives on his own. Daughter Maia, 24, lives with her but is always busy with work and has her own social life. Sunday lunch is bonding time for this single parent, who prides herself with raising two children who have excelled in their respective fields.

The wheels of our daily lives churn off-center due to COVID-19. The norm right now is social distancing.. No footloose moving around for now. We pray will soon surmount this health obstacle that has blurred 2020’s horizon.

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