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DOT chief clarifies report on foreign travel restrictions
Puyat was quoted in the report as saying during a virtual hearing of the House committee on tourism that “international travel might not happen this year” and that “at this point in time, traveling is but a dream.”
Philstar.com/Erwin Cagadas Jr., file

DOT chief clarifies report on foreign travel restrictions

Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - May 2, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat yesterday clarified her statement that international travel this year is unlikely due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

She said Thursday’s report of The STAR wherein a statement attributed to her suggesting that international trips would not be possible for the remaining months of the year after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was “incomplete and inaccurate.”

Puyat was quoted in the report as saying during a virtual hearing of the House committee on tourism that “international travel might not happen this year” and that “at this point in time, traveling is but a dream.”

Her complete quote, should have been: “Travel will not revert to normal right away. Even if the ECQ has been lifted, some LGUs will not yet be open to visitors from other places and international travel might not yet happen within the year pending the travel restrictions of other nations.”

The statement misled stakeholders in the tourism industry into believing that there is already a definite restriction on international travel to be imposed by the Philippine government, which is still looking into measures to help the tourism industry recover from economic losses caused by the ECQ.

At the hearing, Puyat lamented that the tourism sector is “probably the hardest-hit economic sector in this crisis.”

She revealed that there is an estimated decrease of 40.2 percent in the number of foreign arrivals in the Philippines from January to March this year, as compared to figures from the same period in 2019.

“We also estimate revenue from foreign arrivals for the period January to March of 2020 to have reached P79.8 billion, or a decrease of 40.62 percent compared to P134.3 billion from January to March of 2019,” Puyat bared. 

Puyat also said the pandemic might limit the recovery of the industry after the ECQ.

“For the first few months, we might be limited to creating offers for promoting places that are only a few hours drive away from where the target consumer resides,” she explained.

“All of these are being studied and evaluated by the DOT and our private stakeholder partners with regular coordination with the IATF,” she added.

Still, the DOT chief gave assurance that the government is ready to assist affected stakeholders in the industry.

Under the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act of 2020, the DOT will get at least P43 billion to assist affected businesses in the tourism industry.

During the hearing, DOT officials said they are planning to use P36 billion for soft loans for tourism enterprises; P4 billion for projects of the Philippine Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority; P500 million each for domestic tourism promotion, international tourism promotion and capacity building for industry stakeholders training, and P1.5 billion to address the tourism crisis by supporting private sector activities.  

Proper messaging

To restore the confidence of Filipino travelers, DOT Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. told “ The Chief” on One News that tourist destinations around the country should be able to show that their facilities have the proper safety protocols in place.

“Like for example, we will have a limit or carrying capacity in destinations or tourist attractions so that people will not be crowded,” he said, adding that other measures like those for hand washing or sanitizers will also have to be included.

From a marketing standpoint, he stressed the importance of messaging to tell domestic travelers that protocols are in place. ?Bengzon revealed that the DOT, together with stakeholders, is crafting guidelines on health and safety for accommodation establishments. It is also planning to come up with a prototype destination outside Metro Manila where the concept of proper messaging will be implemented.

“In a post-ECQ, or post- pandemic period, we will have to comply with these new protocols, new procedures to make sure that we are able to control the situation,” he said.

To make it effective, travelers will also have to do their share by following the basic protocols, such as proper hand washing and wearing of face mask, when moving around.

“We believe that it is the domestic travelers that will move around before international travelers. We are confident that in the months to come, it will really be domestic tourism that will keep many enterprises, especially in the provinces, afloat,” Bengzon said.?

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show that the tourism sector contributed 12.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018 and became a huge employment generator.

Bengzon said the DOT is working on 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 of both the government and private sector.

The TRRP aims to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the tourism industry with emphasis on infrastructure, social services and livelihood, business and product development to maximize the socio-economic benefits.

“We’re doing our best to ensure business continuity of MSMEs by providing them access to low-interest rate lending facilities and wage subsidies,” Bengzon added.

The DOT said earlier it is in talks with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) to provide rehabilitation financing support such as extending low interest loans for tourism enterprises that have been severely affected by the pandemic.

“The department has also made appropriate representation with the Social Security System, Pag-IBIG and PhilHealth for the deferment of tourism workers’ contributions. Upon these representations PhilHealth has agreed to extend the deadline to remit the members’ savings/contributions until two weeks after the lifting of the quarantine without any penalty,” the DOT said earlier.

It said Pag-IBIG has also agreed to extend its deadline of payment of premium contributions for the first quarter of 2020 to April 30. The Social Security System agreed to extend the deadline for the remittance of contributions until June 1. – With Catherine Talavera

BERNADETTE ROMULO-PUYAT DOT
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