REVENUES of the Philippine tourism industry fell by P190 billion from March to July this year, owing to the international travel restrictions implemented by various countries to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.
This was revealed in a forum hosted by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa) for tourism stakeholders all over the country to express their sentiments on the Bayanihan 2 bill (House Bill 6953), which stripped the industry of P10 billion in funds for working capital, and reallocated this instead to tourism infrastructure.
Citing new data from the Department of Tourism (DOT), Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jose C. Clemente III said tourism receipts in the past four months “dropped to P6.9 billion, versus P196.4 billion earned in the same period last year,” or a decrease of 96.5 percent.
On a cumulative basis, visitor receipts in the first seven months of 2020 amounted to P81.05 billion, a 71.5-percent decrease from P284.82 billion in the same period last year. From January to July 2020, foreign visitor arrivals slumped by some 73 percent to 1.32 million.
“In light of these sobering figures, we, the tourism stakeholders around the country, respectfully urge the Bicameral Committee to re-examine the provisions of the HB 6953, specifically Sec. 7, appropriating P10 billion to finance the programs of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza)…and request that the amount appropriated for infrastructure development be used instead to fulfill the provisions in Sec. 3, (ff) pertaining to the actions to be taken by the Department of Tourism,” on the extension of credit facilities to the sector, the group said in a news statement read during the forum. The online industry forum was attended by close to 400 heads of various tourism associations and stakeholders across the country.
Philtoa president Cesar Cruz underscored that the P10-billion fund for working capital was urgently needed to “save 5 million jobs and 0.5 million micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs),” which make up the bulk of the tourism industry. “We don’t need infra at this time. We have enough infrastructure already in place, even before Covid-19,” he stressed.
He added that 70 percent of the tourism sector are MSMEs: “Hindi naman [napakahaba] ng kanilang mga pisi…. Kailangan po namin ng tulong para madugtungan pa ang mga kapital para maipagpatuloy pa namin yung aming mga negosyo at the same time, ma-proteksyonan namin yung aming mga empleyado [Their resources can’t extend for long… We need help to augment our working capital so we can keep our enterprises afloat and save our employees’ jobs].”
For their sector, travel agencies sustained a loss of some 71 percent or P20.4 billion in terms of international ticketing sales, according to Ritchie Tuaño, president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association. For the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) sector, Philippine Association of Convention/Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers Inc. vice president for exhibitions Marisa Nallana said they estimate losses of P2.1 billion on exhibitions and conferences to date.
During the forum, various stockholders around the country underscored their difficulties in trying to survive the pandemic:
• Carmela Geisert (Asia Grand View Hotel, Coron) said, “We’ve been exerting all efforts to reduce all costs at all sides,” like closing the Manila office. “But to be honest, we don’t really know what to do anymore. It has been quite difficult especially for our people on how to survive and recover.”
• VG Miranda (BelAir Bus Charter) said, aside from the slowdown in business of many of his clients such as hotels and tour operators, the tourism transport sector must contend with the impending implementation of the Transport Modernization Law, which mandates the shift to Euro-4 vehicles. “It’s impossible to implement. If you have a fleet of 10 buses, but are not Euro-4 compliant, you will have to buy 10 new buses…worth P7.5 million. Nobody can do that.”
• Tito Mora (Tour operator, Cagayan de Oro) said the local government has not helped in easing the pains of operating under the pandemic. “We’ve been paying rent when our offices are closed. Then we’re paying all the benefits and salaries [of our staff] even if we have no sales. I don’t know how we’re going to survive this; I think it’s worse than the pandemic when people are not able to see any hope for their future livelihood or business.”
Christine Ann U. Ibarreta, president of the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association, said many stakeholders have resorted to selling food like bread and longganisa, “just anything, just to tide their families over on a daily basis. It’s not fun when there are no funds allotted for us in tourism.” Still, she said, stakeholders hope the bicameral committee will see things their way and allot the P10 billion for working capital for the tourism sector, as the Senate bill intended.
The bicameral conference committee will start meeting on Thursday to reconcile both chambers’ versions of the Bayanihan 2 bill.
Image credits: Stella Arnaldo