More groups back direct financial support for tourism industry

As the bicameral conference committee hearing on the proposed Bayanihan to Heal As One Act or Bayanihan 2 bill is ongoing, more tourism groups have joined the call for direct financial support to the embattled industry. 

Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jose Clemente III said Wednesday that over 50 national and regional associations representing various tourism sectors  from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao have expressed support to their call that the P10-billion realigned budget be allocated for direct financial assistance to the tourism industry instead of being put in infrastructure development. 

“We are earnestly calling on the government and our lawmakers to provide the rescue package that the Senate version of the Bayanihan 2 bill has provided – a P10 billion credit facility that would allow us, the micro and small players of the industry, to quickly recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.  

Each association has released separate statements aside from signifying support to the joint statement sent to both houses of Congress last week. 

“This overwhelming support by organizations across the country is a manifestation of the industry’s need for resources to help in riding out the effects of the pandemic on the industry,” Clemente said. “The sentiments of the stakeholders are undeniable.”

Clemente, who heads the umbrella organization of all the private tourism organizations, stressed that while they acknowledge the long-term wisdom of the House version, the House Bill No. 6953, which allocates the amount to infrastructure projects under the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) to help the industry’s recovery, they believe that the priority in this critical period is an emergency rescue package for tourism businesses. 

The tourism industry is made up of 70 percent Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and have been severely affected by the ongoing global health crisis. 

“Travel restrictions for most of the first half of this year have pushed us to the brink of bankruptcy and will surely nudge us over the edge in the coming weeks with no intervention by the government,” he said. 

In addition, these organizations that have been very vocal about the budget realignment issue represent 5.7 million workers and thousands of companies operating under the tourism sector that had no revenues since mid-March when the government first imposed the Luzon-wide lockdown. But community quarantine measures continued in the succeeding months amid the spike of coronavirus cases in the country. 

These include small tour operators, travel agencies, transport operators, resorts and hotels, restaurants, dive shops, suppliers and service providers employing the drivers, waiters, booking agents, tour guides, dive masters, and other workers who turn the wheels of the entire industry. 

To date, an estimated 4.8 million formal and informal tourism industry workers have been affected by the various levels of community quarantines in the Philippines. 

He stressed that these people are “almost at the end of their ropes.”

“This assistance is a possible lifeline between closing businesses or having another day to survive,” he said.

“We are not asking for a dole out and neither will it be so.  We are seeking credit facilities, to be administered by the government financing institutions like the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Land Bank of the Philippines, to provide us with loans that will tide us over,” he added, citing that the the funds will help them to rehabilitate their facilities and upgrade their businesses to conform with the current health and safety standards set by the authorities, as well as to help their employees financially. 

“We sincerely believe that the tourism infrastructure program envisioned by the House version of Bayanihan 2, while necessary in the long run for the recovery of the tourism industry, will not provide us with the relief that the industry urgently needs now,” he said. 

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA), which represents over 400 regular member travel agencies, had earlier said they could no longer sustain salaries or employment of the industry members, stressing that the future “looks bleak.”

“With very little government support, the situation has already forced many of us to go unemployed or seek alternative means of livelihood just to augment or tide us over these difficult times. We have made our own sacrifices and have proven our worth in contributing to the economy in the name of patriotism and nation building,” it said. 

Being a critical partner and driver of economic recovery and growth, Clemente said they will continue to push for the call and prove that the tourism industry is united and vital to the lifeblood of the country.

“We are drowning in a stormy sea and we need a lifeline now. We cannot wait for a new boat to be built to rescue us,” he said.