Lawmakers on Sunday urged the national government to draw up an emergency skills retooling and jobs plan for thousands of workers facing possible retrenchment in the tourism sector due to the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
House Deputy Speaker Johnny T. Pimentel of Surigao del Sur said the Philippines stands to lose up to 1.2 million Chinese visitors this year due to COVID-19.
“We have to put together a plan to help these displaced workers transition to other jobs,” Pimentel said.
He said the Departments of Tourism (DOT) and Labor and Employment said the skills retooling and jobs plan should be in put place to assist thousands of workers facing retrenchment as airlines, tour operators, hotels and resorts struggle to reduce their capacities.
“Even if the virus is suppressed by the second quarter, we’re afraid the damage to our tourism sector has already been done,” said Pimentel.
“We do not anticipate a quick rebound in Chinese visitor arrivals, assuming two-way air travel between China and the Philippines is eventually restored,” he added.
The lawmaker said China could temporarily discourage its middle-class families from venturing overseas on tour groups and flight/hotel vacation packages.
“Beijing might instead encourage families to spend their money in the mainland to enable China’s economy to recover right away,” said Pimentel.
Pimentel said the Social Security System (SSS) should also get ready to dole out up to P20,000 in unemployment insurance to every involuntarily separated worker.
He said the Philippines stands to lose some $1,200 for every Chinese tourist who will not be able to visit the country. He said each Chinese tourist spends about $1,000 to $1,200 for a packaged tour, and this creates a huge demand for local goods and services, especially in the provinces.
Pimentel noted that China has been the fastest-growing source of foreign visitors since 2016.
Citing DOT data, he said 1.743 million vacationers from China arrived in the Philippines last year, up 38.58 percent from 1.257 million in 2018. Chinese nationals accounted for 21.1 percent of the 8,260,913 foreigners that visited the Philippines last year.
“The number of Chinese holidaymakers this year could plunge to as low as 500,000, possibly even less, depending on how long the virus lingers,” said Pimentel.
The DOT earlier said that apart from the projected huge drop in the number of Chinese visitors, it also expects a general decline of at least 10 percent in total foreign arrivals in the Philippines this year.
Besides China, the other top sources of foreign visitors to the Philippines last year were Korea (1,989,322); the United States (1,064,440); Japan (682,788); and Taiwan (327,273).
House Transportation Committee Chairman Edgar Mary Sarmiento urged local government units to remain calm and to desist from issuing total lockdowns on hotels, resorts, and other tourism destinations.
Sarmiento also called on Filipinos to schedule early summer outings and vacations, and to visit the country’s tourism destinations to mitigate the adverse impact of the COVID-19 scare on the country’s tourism sector.
He said that there is no reason to issue these lockdown orders because the country remains “very safe” from the virus.
Sarmiento said that he was assured by the stakeholders in the transportation, sector especially airline companies, that they have adopted all measures necessary to ensure that all of their passengers are checked.