THE House of Representatives has raised the allocation for the tourism industry under its Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (Pesa), which is meant to assist economic sectors in recovering from the ill effects of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
This developed as the Department of Tourism (DOT) reported foreign arrivals down by over 54 percent to 1.32 million from January to April this year, as a result of the pandemic. Tourism receipts for the same period were also 56 percent less at P79.8 billion.
In its final version for approval, the Lower House allocated P58 billion to support the DOT’s Tourism Response and Recovery Program (TRRP), higher than the P40 billion it initially allocated in the first version of the bill. This was substantially lower, however, than the agency’s request of P71.62 billion. (See, “DOT asks Congress for P71.62 billion for tourism recovery program,” in the BusinessMirror, May 5, 2020.)
Still, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat pressed for the quick passage of the bill to help tourism stakeholders recover faster and prepare the country to receive foreign tourists. “With the proposed stimulus package the Congress has earmarked for the tourism sector, we look to a foreseeable recovery from the industry’s massive losses. We are grateful to all our legislators for recognizing the inputs of the tourism sector during the course of the crafting of the bill and for providing a substantial amount intended for tourism recovery,” she said in a news statement.
Under Section 20 of the Pesa, the DOT and attached agencies are instructed to assist DOT-accredited tourism enterprises through either of the following programs: interest-free loans or loan guarantees up to five years for maintenance and operating expenses; credit facilities for upgrading, rehabilitation, or modernization of current establishments to be compliant with new health and safety standards; marketing and product development promotions and programs; grants for education, training, and advising for tourism stakeholders for new normal alternative livelihood programs; utilization of information technology for the improvement of tourism services, development of a tourist tracking system for emergency response, and establishment of spatial database to improve planning capacity; and any other relevant program, including infrastructure, necessary to mitigate the economic effects of Covid-19 on the tourism industry.
Credit facilities and loan guarantees shall be administered through government financial
institutions such as the Land Bank of the Philippines or Development Bank of the Philippines, according to the bill.
For its part, the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) likewise urged the swift passage of the bill. “The tourism stakeholders would like to express their sincerest gratitude to the House of Representatives for the allocations contained in the Pesa Bill specifically for our industry. Your support is very much needed as we do our best to revive the travel and tourism industry after the pandemic,” said TCP President Jose C. Clemente III.
The tourism industry is the second-largest contributor to the national income, and accounted for 12.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2018. The industry also employed 5.4 million Filipinos that year, and recorded 8.26 million in international tourist arrivals in 2019, a new record high.
Under Pesa, the DOT is also instructed to “give preference to establishments requiring assistance for any activity that supports the 1) Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program under Executive Order 114; and 2) initiatives of the DOH (Department of Health) toward ensuring an adequate and responsive supply of health-care services.”
The bill provides that even if the tourism stakeholder has already availed himself of assistance under the DOT, it does not preclude him from availing himself of assistance from other government agencies which also has funds allocated for economic recovery.
The Pesa bill is principally sponsored by the Sub-Committee on Economic Stimulus and Response Package co-headed by Reps. Joey Sarte Salceda (Albay, 2nd District); Sharon S. Garin (AAMBIS-OWA), and Stella Luz-Quimbo (Marikina, 2nd District). House Committee on Tourism Chair Rep. Marisol Aragones-Sampelo (Laguna, 3rd District) and 234 other members of the Lower House are supporting the bill’s passage and have signed up as co-authors.
Romulo-Puyat underscored, “Through the stimulus package, the DOT hopes to carry out plans under the TRRP, including the continued assistance to tourists affected by the implementation of quarantine protocols, and capacity-building for tourism workers through re-skilling and up-skilling training programs.”
Likewise, the DOT shall continue its unprecedented development of infrastructure in tourist destinations, provision of training and capacity-building on tourism infrastructure planning, and implementation of measures that support needs of destinations and businesses in the “new normal” situation, which includes ensuring that airports, seaports and terminals comply with global safety and sanitation standards.
To regain confidence in tourism, the DOT also plans to offer incentives for affected tourists, intensely promote local or domestic travel among Filipinos, explore the use of IT innovations such as virtual tourism to sustain the country’s international presence and persuade travelers to come back to the Philippines, and develop new tourism products and tour packages that adjust to the situation.