Tourism congress proposed to mitigate effects of pandemic

Published July 23, 2020, 7:12 PM

by Hanah Tabios

A pillar of the tourism industry is urging the Department of Tourism (DOT) to convene a national tourism congress to plan the programs aimed at mitigating the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to the industry.

In a letter addressed to tourism chief Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Rajah Tours International chair Atty. Alejandra Clemente suggested an assembly or national tourism congress composed of government officials involved in the development of the sector, as well as major tourism players from the private sector.

“This meeting could lay the groundwork on the national level set of programs and plan of actions to combat the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which caused  incalculable damage to the industry,” Clemente said.

The tourism department previously reported that inbound tourism revenues for the first quarter of the year plunged to 66.7 percent to P81.05 billion from P243 billion in the same period last year. With no tourists coming in, the crisis also left thousands of tourism workers jobless.

The 80-year-old veteran industry player, who has been in the business for around 50 years, then emphasized that the recommended assembly will guide the government’s COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) when coming out with decisions in moving towards the normalization of the tourism industry.

“During the Tourism Congress it can map out its plan on the use of Contingency Fund sent under the Republic Act No. 9593 equivalent to 10 percent of the promotions and marketing to be allocated and set aside by the TPB (Tourism Promotions Board) to be used to address the adverse effects of emergencies like the COVID-19,” she noted.

She also emphasized in her letter that the responsibility of the tourism department is to extend financial assistance by creating a “Crisis Fund”, as well to exert effort to get financial assistance through loans or donations for Small, Medium Enterprises (SMEs), especially for tour operators and travel agencies. According to Clemente, this sector is the lifeline of the tourism industry that should be discussed and taken up.

“There is no doubt that very few or none of this sector can survive without the help of the government,” she added.

To recall, Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) President Cesar Cruz said in an interview that  their sector has generated zero revenue amid massive border restrictions. Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) President Ritchie Tuano also told the Manila Bulletin previously that some travel agents have also resorted to temporary income generating jobs, such as reselling of COVID-19 protecting equipment and even bakery business.

As a response, DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat acknowledged Clemente’s suggestions and expressed gratitude to her unending support to the hardest hit sector.

 “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.

“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,” the tourism secretary said in response.

Puyat also added that the DOT and the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) have already completed a framework in identifying safe destinations all over the country and that they will soon meet  the regional offices of destinations which are targeted to jumpstart tourism under the new normal scenario.