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ASEAN seeks return of business travel DOT chief sees recovery of Philippine tourism
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said business trips – if allowed to resume within ASEAN – will still be subject to strict quarantine and other health protocols.
KJ Rosales, file

ASEAN seeks return of business travel DOT chief sees recovery of Philippine tourism

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - June 27, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines  — Resuming business travel within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was raised by at least three ASEAN heads of state, Malacañang said, as the grouping convened yesterday for a virtual summit to map out a strategy to revive regional growth stymied by the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said business trips – if allowed to resume within ASEAN – will still be subject to strict quarantine and other health protocols.

Roque did not name the leaders who made the proposal.

At yesterday’s 36th ASEAN summit, officials said the leaders sought economic
 integration within the region to speed up the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, along with digitalization of trade and commerce.

“And what’s needed – this is something discussed by at least three heads of state – is the reopening of the region to business travel subject to quarantine and other health restrictions,” Roque said at a press briefing yesterday from Davao City.

In his intervention or remarks at the summit done via teleconference, Duterte said only “a cohesive and responsive ASEAN can help us all safely navigate out of this perfect storm of a crisis.”

“Greater cooperation and connectivity are vital for our region to thrive under the new normal that COVID-19 imposes on all of us. It is in this light that I welcome our Plan of Action on strengthening economic cooperation and supply chain connectivity, as well as the establishment of the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund,” the President said.

Duterte said the measures are only the first steps toward recovery and the continuation of the region’s community building.

“To bridge the gap between today’s crisis and the future that we want, we must address the vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has revealed in our systems,” he added.

According to Duterte, the pandemic has exposed the limitations of the country’s healthcare and social protection systems. “It has laid bare the precarious situation of our workers at home and abroad, the viability of our micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs and the weaknesses of our supply chain networks,” he added.

Duterte also called for ASEAN solidarity and collective action that he said “have never been more critical than today.” The President also thanked Vietnam for its committed leadership of ASEAN under difficult times.

“Rest assured that the Philippines will continue working with ASEAN to realize our shared aspiration for a peaceful, prosperous and secure future for our peoples,” he said.

Optimistic

As some ASEAN leaders raised the prospect of resuming business travel, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat has expressed optimism for the recovery of the Philippine tourism sector, given its consistent growth and employment contribution in recent years.

“I have high hopes that the significant share of employment the tourism industry provides, as consistently indicated by the PSA (Philippine Statistics Authority)’s annual reports, will help spur our sector’s recovery from the impact of this pandemic,” Puyat said yesterday in a statement.Puyat based her optimism on the PSA report on the tourism industry’s performance last year, which indicated an increase in tourism jobs of some 350,000, from 5.36 million to 5.71 million jobs. This represents an increase of 6.5 percent over the number of jobs in 2018.  She added that the industry’s 13.5 percent share in the total employment in the country means that 14 out of every 100 employed Filipinos were in tourism-related jobs.The PSA report also showed that the tourism sector contributed 12.7 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) or P2.48 trillion in 2019, a 10.8 percent increase from P2.24 trillion the year before.Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jose Clemente III said earlier that the figures show tourism’s vital role in sustaining the economy.“Not only do we bring in revenues but also generate employment both directly and indirectly,” Clemente told The STAR.

“We will be a substantial contributor once again once travel is restarted, but we need to be able to weather this storm,” he added.

The tourism industry is among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

Data from the Department of tourism (DOT) show that international arrivals for January to May 2020 dropped 62.21 percent to 1.3 million from 3.49 million arrivals in the same period last year.

Estimated inbound tourism revenues during the period plunged 60.56 percent to P81.05 billion from P205.50 billion in the same period a year ago.

The DOT said the recent easing of quarantine restrictions in some regions of the country has caused excitement among industry stakeholders, especially since the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) allowed some tourism establishments, like restaurants, to partially resume operations.

“Tourism stakeholders share the desire and determination of the nation’s labor force to get back to work as we embrace the new normal,” Puyat said.

Gov’t support

Despite massive losses, the tourism sector – particularly small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – would rebound if given enough government support.

Puyat earlier announced that the government through the Board of Investments (BOI) would be offering tax incentives to tourism enterprises undergoing modernization or upgrade of their facilities for better compliance with safety protocols.

Incentives would include a three-year income tax holiday and duty-free importation of capital equipment.

Based on a memorandum by the BOI dated June 18, examples of renovations or upgrade that can qualify for such tax incentives include renovation of guestrooms, food and beverage outlets, function/meeting rooms, recreation areas and/or other common areas; investment in new or upgrade of laundry, kitchen, housekeeping, employee facilities and other back of house facilities; building of full, partial or movable partitions; installation of built-in thermal scanners, hygiene gates and/or booths; upgrade or improvement of ventilation, air- conditioning, air filtration systems, water systems, water treatment facilities (STP); a mobile check-in system; non-touch or no contact door lock systems and non-touch control panels in elevators and other areas.

Eligible tourism enterprises include hotels and resorts, as well as tourist transport companies.

The Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) recently announced that it would also be offering tax incentives to tourism enterprises for renovation or upgrade purposes.

The TIEZA said its board recently approved the grant of tax incentives to tourism enterprises undertaking substantial expansion or upgrade.

“There will also be tax- and duty-free importation incentive for construction materials, PPE or disinfecting supplies and equipment,” TIEZA said. Catherine Talavera

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