THE Department of Tourism (DOT) has expressed support for the immediate approval of the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA), which will allocate over P58 billion stimulus package to fund the Tourism Response and Recovery Program (TRRP), and revive the country’s tourism sector, which suffered serious losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the proposed stimulus package Congress has earmarked for the tourism sector, we look to a foreseeable recovery from the industry’s massive losses. 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,” Toursim Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said.
The tourism industry, touted as a key economic driver in the Philippines, is the country’s second largest contributor to national revenue, contributing 12.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018.The industry also accounted for the employment of 5.4 million Filipinos in 2018, and achieved a record-high international tourist arrivals of 8.26 million in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a serious blow to tourism, slashing foreign arrivals in January to April 2020 to 1,318,719, or a -54.01 percent decrease from the 2,867,551 year-on-year. Revenues from foreign tourist arrivals for January to April 2020 reached P79.8 billion, a decrease of -55.79 percent compared to P180.52 billion year-on-year.
The PESA Bill is being principally sponsored by the Sub-Committee on Economic Stimulus and Response Package co-headed by Representatives Joey Salceda, Sharon Garin, and Stella Luz-Quimbo.
The passage of the Bill is also supported by House Committee on Tourism Chair Marisol Aragones, and 234 other members of the House of Representatives who signed up as co-authors.
Section 20 of the PESA stipulates that the DOT and its instrumentalities shall assist critically impacted businesses that are DOT –accredited tourism enterprises in any of 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; and marketing and product development promotions and programs.
The Bill also allows for 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; and any other relevant program including infrastructure, necessary to mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19 on the tourism industry.
Tourism stakeholders through the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) echoed the call of the DOT.
“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,” said TCP President Jose Clemente III.
PESA likewise states that “the DOT 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 loan interventions implemented under this Section shall be exclusively for accredited Tourism Enterprises only.”
“Through the stimulus package, the DOT hopes 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 re-skilling and up-skilling training programs,” Puyat said.
She said the DOT shall 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” situation, which includes ensuring that airports, seaports, terminals comply with global safety and sanitation standards.
To gain back industry confidence, the DOT has also set its eyes on offering incentives for affected tourists, an intensified promotion of local or domestic travel among Filipinos, exploring use of technological advancements such as virtual tourism to sustain international presence and convince travelers to come back to the Philippines, and the development of new tourism products and tour packages that adjust to the situation.