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The travel industry is the second biggest contributor of GDP, now it needs your support

Interview by KRIZETTE CHU
Illustration by ARIANA MARALIT

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Many naysayers—and there have been many—question the importance of the Department of Tourism at a time when commercial and leisure travel are nil: “Why the big budget?” “So why are we earmarking the biggest budget to the DOT when there’s zero travel now?” “What are they doing anyway?”

The DOT, arguably the most glamorous department, has been busy with less-than-glitzy pursuits. As of May 28, since ECQ started, it has assisted 27,590 foreign and 9,288 domestic stranded tourists, making sure that they get home through all means possible and that they’re booked in decent lodging, coordinating with local government units and national agencies for border passages, and then distributing Tourist Care Vouchers and Tourist Care Kits.

“While travel and tourism is deemed as ‘non-essential’ under quarantine measures worldwide, it is a significant economic driver for nations that are tourism-dependent such as the Philippines,” Sec. Berna Puyattells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. Tourism contributed 12.7 percent of the country’s GDP in 2018—the country’s second largest, and employs 5.4 million jobs, or a 13 percent share in the country’s total employment.

The “big budget” its critics have continually hit on was DOT’s budget pre-Covid-19 and were existing funds of the DOT, but the amount has been reverted to the national budget upon the passage of the Bayanihan Act.

The department has crafted the Tourism Response and Recovery Program (TRRP), an umbrella program to develop continuity plans, provide financial assistance to the industry’s stakeholders and players, and increase tourist confidence to travel again.

Berna talks to us to detail the future that’s in store for the industry, how the government can help, and what every Filipino can contribute to this fight.

A lot of Filipinos who work in hospitality are worried about the economic impact of the pandemic. What should they do to prepare for the new normal?
We’ve started to host online trainings and webinars beginning mid-April.

The DOT, together with the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP), and its attached agencies such as the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), Intramuros Administration (IA), and the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) offer free webinars and online trainings for tourism stakeholders. We have conducted free webinars on topics such as how the “7 Values of the Filipino Brand of Service (FBS)” can be observed during the Covid-19  crisis, how tourism enterprises can utilize the ECQ period, how to maintain emotional wellness during the crisis, how the tourism industry can adapt to the new normal, digitalizing business operations and transactions, and cultural and heritage development in view of Covid-19.

We have also invited international speakers from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) to discuss their suggested recovery strategies for the tourism sector. The IA is also conducting learning sessions to enrich to public’s knowledge of Intramuros’ contributions to the country’s historical and cultural development.

We strongly encourage employers and workers in the hospitality industry to attend online trainings or webinars. We have reached closed to one million viewers, to date.

On the webinar conducted by the WTTC, one oft-repeated statement is that government support is badly needed for private sector to overcome this challenge.
The DOT has coordinated with different government agencies such as the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Finance to seek their assistance in extending their amelioration to the tourism sector, particularly through the DOLE’s Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) and Tulong Pangkabuhayan Para sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD), and the DOF’s Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program. For two months, this program has provided a monthly wage of P5,000 to P8,000 to eligible employees of small businesses affected by the ECQ depending on the minimum wage levels of their respective regions.

In May, the SBSW program has approvedan estimated P4,914,382,474 worth of subsidies for the first tranche to help 569,178 beneficiaries from tourism-related sectors.

Our legislators have been working on the passage of the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act or PESA. Under the PESA, a P58 billion stimulus package will be allotted to fund the TRRP and revive the country’s tourism sector, with such programs as interest-free loans or issuance of loan guarantees, marketing and product development promotions and programs, education and training grants, utilization of IT, and any other relevant programs, including infrastructure.

What are the five key things that will change in tourism as we move toward this new chapter?
First is capacity. The maximum capacity of destinations, accommodations, and tourist transport will also have to be reviewed.  We will coordinate with the LGUs to do the same prior to the reopening of tourism post-pandemic.

Second is safety and sanitation. The DOT issued the Health and Safety Guidelines Governing the Operations of Accommodation Establishments Under the New Normal.

Third is interactionThere will be stringent measures to maintain physical distancing.

Fourth is screening. We are in the process of finalizing the screening measures, specifically protocols on health checks, necessary certificates, among others.

And fifth, technology. Tourism-related establishments will have to move forward with digital innovations and contactless to lessen physical interaction and provide overall guest experience from a health/safety perspective. The government already has its StaySafe.ph app and website that generate a heat map for infections using self-reported information.

What is the plan to “open” tourism in the Philippines?
Domestic tourism will serve as the catalyst toward full recovery with new norms. Local travel will help build confidence, a crucial step to bringing back our industry to full speed. The IATF mandated the opening of tourism enterprises with 50 percent workforce under MCGQ.

We would like to emphasize the importance of local government units in enforcing the new normal protocols, and we will open up the tourism sector slowly but surely.

Only those coming from a place categorized as MGCQ will be allowed to travel but their choices will be limited to places under MGCQ as well.

How can Filipinos help the tourism industry recover?
By sharing old travel photos and videos on their social media accounts. It sparks the interest of other travelers and encourages them to witness the beauty and experience the fun in the destinations themselves. They may also share the links to our virtual tours which may be found on the Facebook page of the DOT and at philippines.travel/wakeupinph.

Why do you believe that the Philippines will readily bounce back from this unprecedented crisis?
With the support and cooperation of our stakeholders, I am positive that the tourism industry will recover and provide better services with enhanced standards for hospitality, sustainability, health, and safety.

The Filipino nation has been through a lot in its history, and as we near June 12, I think it renews a sense of nationalism for us in knowing that the Filipinos will always rise above it all, even stronger than we ever have been.


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/06/08/the-travel-industry-is-the-second-biggest-contributor-of-gdp-now-it-needs-your-support/)

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