Philippines commits support to ASEAN tourism recovery

Catherine Talavera - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines reaffirms its commitment to the tourism cooperation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in line with the region’s efforts toward the recovery of the tourism sector from the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic.

“More than ever, we are banking on the unity of the tourism industry to ensure that we will together endure and overcome these trying times,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said during special ASEAN Tourism Ministers Meting held recently via tele-conference.

Puyat emphasized that Philippine tourism was off to a good start in January 2020, registering about eight percent growth rate in foreign visitor arrivals and nine percent in visitor receipts.

However,the global health crisis has plagued the industry in the following months, with foreign arrivals dropping  by 35.6 percent in the first three months to 1.4 million foreign arrivals from 2.2 million in the same period last year.

In addition, revenues during the period have dropped  by about 36 percent to $85 billion from $134 billion.

“The events have caused a major shift in the landscapes of the travel industry. Before, food, culture, and immersions influence a travelers choice. Today, safety will be the paramount concern of most, if not all of our visitors,” Puyat said.

The tourism secretary also emphasized the country’s support to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)’s message that “by staying at home today, we can travel tomorrow,” highlighting the safety measures being implemented in the country.

“Consistent with UNWTO’s message that ‘by staying home today we can travel tomorrow’ let us continue with the measures being implemented and build forward with the strategies in our own respective countries. Adopt the best practices we observe from one another, trusting in the system and in a collectively response,” Puyat said.

Puyat also said that the   Department of Tourism (DOT) has and would continue to host online trainings or webinars for the tourism industry’s work force and entrepreneurs, making sure that they are up to date with the latest information not only on how to respond to the threat of COVID-19 but also on recovery and moving forward.

“The ASEAN being a diverse mix of peoples from different backgrounds and culture must safeguard the backbone of its tourism industry. This period where social distancing and quarantines are observed is a perfect time to reach out to our work force, train and retool them for what lies ahead with an enhanced learning opportunity,” she said.

Moreover, Puyat said the DOT would give emphasis to the domestic and intra-ASEAN markets in the recovery of the tourism sector.

“By tapping into our domestic and short haul markets through effective targeted marketing, we can bypass some of the considerable challenges we face following this pandemic. With the confidence to travel at a low point, let us capitalize on the low hanging fruit within our borders while the rest of the world slowly regains its footing,”she said.

Members of the ASEAN Tourism Ministers have agreed to implement clear polices and measures to bolster confidence among domestic and international visitors to Southeast Asia, including the development of clear standards and guidelines for a safer and healthier work environment to protect our workers and communities in the hospitality and tourism-related industries, destinations and establishments in ASEAN member states.

The tourism secretary also shared that the DOT is on its final phases to completing the Tourism Response and Recovery Plan(TRRP), which has consolidated the inputs from all concerned industry sub-sectors to make for an inclusive planning process and an integrated implementation with the support not only of the government but of the private sector as well.

Puyat said the TRRP aims to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 to the tourism industry with emphasis on Infrastructure, Social Services and Livelihood, Business and Product Development to maximize the socio-economic benefits moving forward.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority(PSA) shows that the Tourism sector contributed 12.7 percent to the country’s gross domestic product in 2018. The sector is also a huge generator of jobs as it registered a total of 5.4 million in employments in the same year.

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