Hardest-hit tourism businesses need aid

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    ‘Now, even under general community quarantine (GCQ), Metro Manila residents are allowed only essential travel, and all tourism activities are still banned.’

    THEY say the COVID-19 pandemic is a great leveler, because the SARS coronavirus 2 which causes the disease does not discriminate between the rich and the poor — all are fair game for this virulent contagion.

    Yet, in the case of industries of the real economy, and as mirrored in the stock market, this pandemic and the inconvenient social behavior it imposes on the world population have favored certain businesses and industries, to the detriment of others.

    The retailers of essentials goods such as food, personal hygiene products, etc. are booming, as Filipinos tweak their buying behavior to stress on the basic. Tourism, air and sea travel, hotels and motels, however, are expected to be distressed, completing a dire picture that might take one to two years to turn rosy.

    Tourism chief Bernadette Romulo Puyat said some 5.4 million Filipinos rely on tourism for their livelihood, many of them jobless now, as the industry could only look back with longing at the 8.3 million visitors the nation had last year. Now, even under general community quarantine (GCQ), Metro Manila residents are allowed only essential travel, and all tourism activities are still banned.

    She said tourism activities will be allowed only at areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), where according to the government-imposed protocols, all types of public gatherings may resume at 50 percent capacity, provided that physical distancing will be observed.

    As the DOT prepares to revive the industry by starting with local tourism, the department found an ally in the Senate with Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino who has filed a bill mandating the crafting of a tourism road map to assist small tourist-oriented businesses get back on their feet.

    Senator Tolentino noted that 80 percent of the firms in the country’s top tourist spots are micro businesses, and the government should prioritize assistance to this sector. He noted that while Boracay may be on top of the list, those in Sagada, Mountain Province might not even be considered for assistance without a workable tourism road map.

    Tolentino aired his views in an interpellation during the Senate debate on the “Bayanihan to Recover as One” bill which seeks to grant President Duterte continued broad powers to carry out the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill allocates P236 billion standby fund to finance public health programs and financial interventions to assist affected sectors of the economy.

    The measure, with its P10-billion allocation for the tourism department to help “critically impacted” businesses in the tourism industry, should deserve the support of Tolentino and other senators.

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