The advisory is purely recommendatory,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said during the regular Laging Handa press briefing at Malacañang yesterday.
Boy Santos/ File
Duterte calls on Pinoys to boost domestic tourism
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 15, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — It’s more fun in the Philippines as President Duterte urged Filipinos to travel around the country to boost local tourism and help the aviation industry now facing revenue losses estimated at P42.9 billion from cancelled flights and hotel bookings through April as a result of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

“To my fellow Filipinos, I encourage you to travel with me around the Philippines. I assure you that everything is safe in our country, be it an issue of health, be it an issue of law and order and be it an issue of accessibility,” Duterte said in a taped message released by state-run PTV4.

Duterte became an instant ambassador of tourism, asking Filipino tourists to join him in his trips to various scenic spots in the country.  

Already, the Philippines has ordered a travel ban to China, Hong Kong and Macau as the concerned agencies also refuse entry to foreigners from the gravely affected countries, particularly China.

“Come with me and be my travel companion. I’ll be traveling around the Philippines. Pasyal tayo dito sa atin. Unahin natin yung atin (Let’s visit our country first). Mabuhay ang Pilipino. Mabuhay ang turismo ng Pilipinas,” he said.

Ironically, the President’s call came on top of the recommendation of the Department of Health for the public to avoid going to concerts and events with mass gathering of people as part of precautionary measures against the virus.

“The advisory is purely recommendatory,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said during the regular Laging Handa press briefing at Malacañang yesterday.

“But we have not been short of giving other supplemental, if not complementary, advisories. Like if you’re in a hotel, there’s a gathering there – a convention perhaps – the hotel, make sure that there is enough supply of disinfectants in almost every corner; if possible, you know, people can just press the dispenser to use that,” Duque said.

Duque reiterated anew the call for improving personal hygiene by washing hands properly. “Wash your hands as frequently as possible, and there is no danger of doing that – everything to gain,” he said.

Pending the release of the P2-billion supplemental budget from Congress, Duque added that expenses related to the emergency are now being procured from the agency’s quick response fund.

Earlier this week, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat announced that Duterte would be visiting the country’s top tourist destinations next week, in a bid to prove that domestic travel remains safe amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Puyat along with representatives from the tourism industry met with the President on Monday to discuss how boosting domestic tourism may soften the impact of the COVID-19 scare on the industry.

“And he told us that he wants to start traveling around the country next week to show that it’s safe,” Puyat said earlier.

Apart from Puyat, others who met with the President were Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jose Clemente III, Philippine Hotel Owners Association president Arthur Lopez, Cebu Pacific president and CEO Lance Gokongwei, Philippine Airlines president Gilbert Santamaria and AirAsia Philippines majority owner Mikee Romero and its president, Ricky Isla.

“Together, we’d like to assure the public, especially our foreign and domestic tourists, that the Philippines remains a safe destination,” Puyat said.

Impact on tourism

 At the same briefing, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the government is looking at opportunities to cushion or even compensate for the economic impact of COVID-19 through domestic tourism.

Citing data gathered during the economic cluster’s meetings on the matter, Nograles said the Department of Tourism (DOT) estimated P42.9 billion in forgone revenue up to April of this year.

“This, however, is still just a fraction compared to the annual inbound tourism revenue which in 2018 was actually P441 billion and from January to November 2019 was P458 billion,” he said.

Nograles noted that the country earned P3.2 trillion from domestic expenditure in 2018.

“The DOT and the tourism sector with support from the President will roll out exciting domestic tourism programs that will offer lower prices for airline fares within the country and hotel and resort accommodation across our tourist destinations,” Nograles said.

“We invite everyone to explore the hidden gems in the Philippines and to discover places you’ve never been to in our country,” he said.

If the tourism sector and other stakeholders would continue to suffer, Nograles said there are available government lending programs offered by Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines.         – With Catherine Talavera

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar assured the public that the government is conducting a whole-of-nation approach to address the global health emergency.

Andanar noted that President Duterte met with local chief executives last Monday “to assure them that the national government remains on top of the threat of the COVID-19.  

“(The government) is prepared to handle all public emergencies. COVID-19 is a virus outbreak which originated in China, but we wish to point out that that is something that needs to be resolved by all of us,” he said.

According to Andanar, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) is at the forefront of an education campaign to reach out to the greater majority and allay fears generated by many fake and wrongful information that spread in social media.

As part of the government’s efforts, Nograles said the President is leading efforts to assure the public about the intensified efforts to contain the disease. He noted that there is no local transmission but the health department is geared toward preventing a further spread among the populace.

“The President likewise assured the public that the government is working with the World Health Organization, with medical organizations and other partners in the private sector to address the threats posed by this public health concern,” Nograles said.

“We recognize that providing the public with timely, accurate and relevant information about the virus and government efforts to contain it are necessary to assuage the fears of our people,” he added.

FRANCISCO DUQUE III
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