By Hanah Tabios
The Department of Tourism (DOT) expresses support for the immediate approval of the proposed P1.3-trillion economic stimulus measure to address the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis in the country to be implemented from 2020 to 2022.
The Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA) will allocate over P58 billion stimulus package to fund the Tourism Response and Recovery Program (TRRP) earlier crafted by the DOT and revive the country’s tourism sector, which suffered serious losses due to the ongoing global health crisis.
“With the proposed stimulus package the Congress has earmarked for the tourism sector, we look to a foreseeable recovery from the industry’s massive losses,” tourism chief Berna Romulo-Puyat said in a statement.
This as the COVID-19 pandemic has put a major dent on the country’s tourism industry with a negative 55 percent dip, from P180.5 billion to P79.8 billion estimated revenue from foreign tourist arrivals in the country beginning January to April 2020, compared with the figures recorded in the same period in 2019.
The PESA bill is principally sponsored by the Sub-Committee on Economic Stimulus and Response Package co-headed by Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda, AMMBIS-OWA Party-list Representative Sharon Garin, and Marikina City 2nd District Representative Stella Luz-Quimbo.
The bill is also supported by the House Committee on Tourism chair Representative Marisol “Sol” Aragones. Two hundred thirty four House members had also signed up for PESA authorship, which Garin considered as an “unprecedented feat” of the Congress.
“We are grateful to all our legislators for recognizing the inputs of the tourism sector during the course of the crafting of the bill and for providing a substantial amount intended for tourism recovery,” Puyat added.
Aside from DOT, even tourism stakeholders through the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) supports the passage of the fiscal stimulus package.
“The tourism stakeholders would like to express their sincerest gratitude to the House of Representatives for the allocations contained in the PESA Bill specifically for our industry. We badly need the support and will be very much needed as we do our best to revive the travel and tourism industry after the pandemic,” TCP president Jose Clemente III said.
Section 20 of the massive economic stimulus sets out that the DOT and its instrumentalities shall assist critically impacted DOT-accredited tourism enterprises under the following programs:
*interest free-loans or issuance of loan guarantees with terms of up to five years
*credit facilities for upgrading of current establishments to be compliant with new health standards
*marketing and product development promotions and programs
*grants for education, training, and advising for tourism stakeholder for new normal alternative livelihood programs
*utilization of information technology for the improvement of tourism services, development of a tourist tracking system for emergency response, and establishment of spatial database to improve planning capacity
*any other relevant program, including infrastructure, necessary to mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19 on the tourism industry.
The bill also states that the tourism department or any of its attached agencies and instrumentalities “shall administer the loan or credit facility programs through government financial institutions, such as the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP),” provided that the loan interventions will be exclusively for tourism enterprises only.
Puyat said the PESA bill will become an instrument to carry out plans under the TRRP, including the continued assistance to tourists affected by the implementation of quarantine protocols, and capacity-building for tourism workers through reskilling and up-skilling training programs.
Some sections of the bill were also intended for the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises as they were identified as among the hardest hit sectors of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the trade and industry department.
Continuous tourism redevelopment
With the caution to prevent the spread of the dreaded coronavirus disease, Puyat said the department will continue its unprecedented development of infrastructure in tourist destinations, provision of training and capacity-building on tourism infrastructure planning, and implementation of measures that support needs of destinations and businesses in the “new normal” setting, which includes ensuring that the country’s transport modal systems such as airports, seaports, terminals will comply with the global safety and sanitation standards.
The DOT also plans to offer incentives for affected tourists, apart from its intensified promotion of local or domestic travel among Filipinos, and exploring use of technological advancements such as virtual tourism to sustain international presence and convince travelers to come back to the Philippines to gain back industry confidence.
Puyat said there will also be development of new tourism products and tour packages as a form of adjustment to the “new normal.”