By Hanah Tabios
Business travelers, primarily from other neighboring Asian countries, may be allowed to enter the Philippines once quarantine restrictions have been eased, according to an official of the Department of Tourism (DOT).
During an radio interview on Sunday, June 28, Undersecretary Benito Bengzon, Jr., also the DOT spokesperson, said the final say, however, will come from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
This, following President Rodrigo Duterte’s attendance in the 36th ASEAN Summit held virtually for the first time. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at least three Southeast Asian leaders proposed the possibility of opening the region for business travel to weather the effects of the ongoing global health crisis. President Duterte also called for “fundamental and systematic changes” in ASEAN to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
“Pag dating po sa modified GCQ, pwedeng payagan yung pagpasok ng mga business travelers, pero syempre the assumption is that meron na ring pahintulot galing sa ating head authorities na papasukin itong mga dayuhan na ito, kasi kailangan pa rin itong protocols natin in place pagdating ng international gateways (If we transitioned to modified general community quarantine, there is a possibility that business travelers will finally be allowed, but the assumption is we should have a go signal from our head authorities to allow foreign entry because we need protocols in place when in comes to international gateways),” Bengzon said.
The tourism undersecretary also stressed that business foreign entry is still considered by the department as foreign tourist arrival as defined by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Though domestic tourism contributes way higher in the tourism’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) share, Bengzon said foreign tourists help a lot in generating income for tourism enterprises. To note, around 5.7 million Filipino workers were both directly and indirectly employed in tourism industries. But he said with the massive shutdown of borders, the DOT estimated a negative 62 percent of foreign tourist arrivals from the period of January to May this year.
“Our revenue last year for the first five months of 2019 was approximately P205 billion. Now, for the same period last year, January to May 2020, maybe it’s only around P80 billion, he said.
Meanwhile, the undersecretary emphasized that in order to sustain the resumption of tourism operations in the country, the approach must be gradual and steady as reiterated by tourism chief Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, especially with the resumption of some tourism activities in select areas under MGCQ, such as in Boracay and Palawan.
In her previous interviews, Puyat said that they are eyeing to create travel bubbles or travel corridors which would serve as bridges for select groups of travelers from areas or countries where COVID-19 cases have been contained.
She said the DOT will also focus its tourism efforts on short-haul international tourists or travelers from Asia once the situation permits.