THE Department of Tourism (DOT) will allocate some P1.44 billion in its budget next year to promote the Philippines and its many key destinations to foreign and domestic travelers.
In the House Committee on Appropriations hearing for the DOT’s proposed P3.52-billion budget, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat said a large chunk of the promotions budget, at P915 million, will be aimed at domestic tourists, who she described as “the backbone of our tourism industry.”
International marketing promotions will be allocated P360 million, while country brand development will get P170 million. “We need to continue promoting internationally to keep the country top of mind among our markets so they don’t forget us,” she explained to lawmakers who asked why the agency had such a budget for foreign tourists amid projections of the slow recovery of international travel. The rest of DOT’s budget, at P23.58 million, is allocated for support to its operations.
Several lawmakers led by Rep. Mark Go and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, however, advocated an increase in DOT’s budget to its originally proposed P4.43 billion before the Department of Budget and Management capped it, in recognition of the large contribution of the tourism industry to economic growth. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the tourism sector accounted for 12.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2019. It also employed 5.7 million, 4.8 million of whom, said the DOT, have already been affected by Covid-19 in terms of closures, loss of work or reduced income.
DOT-attached agencies such as the Intramuros Administration also proposed a budget of P90 million, and the National Parks Development Committee, P230 million. (See, “DOT to revise plan as Covid-19 upends targets,” in the BusinessMirror, August 31, 2020.)
“[Our 2021 budget] is P96.3 million lower [than this year’s budget]. We hope we would still be able to provide what is needed given the pandemic. We will make do what we have,” said Romulo Puyat.
The Philippines’s budget for tourism promotions pales in comparison to its neighbors. Malaysia, for instance, allocated $270 million alone for its Visit Malaysia 2020 program, prior to the pandemic; Thailand’s tourism stimulus package this year is $718 million; and Indonesia has a $965-million budget for its tourism revival program in 2021.
In her presentation, the DOT chief said the strategic tourism thrust for 2021 will be the crafting of timely policies for a safe and fun tourism; creating standards and protocols in line with global best practices; development of and enforcement of tourism standards and regulations; inclusive and participatory policy formulation with stakeholders, alignment of Tourism Response and Recovery Plan with the updated National Tourism Development Plan—all of which cost an estimated P376.88 million.
Among its key strategies in boosting domestic tourism is the development and marketing of regional circuits all over the country grouped into: North Luzon Circuit (Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Cordillera Administrative Region); Southern Luzon (Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol); Visayas (Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Samar, Cebu and Bohol, Negros Island, Aklan, Iloilo); and Mindanao (Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao Region, Socsksargen and Caraga).
“The DOT will realign its branding campaign to support domestic tourism as domestic tourism suffered unprecedented impact of the [Covid-19] pandemic,” said Romulo Puyat.
“The pandemic has hampered if not halted many of our activities and projects, which were scheduled from March to May—a period which we considered as peak season for tourism,” she added.
Even as the DOT has been persistently trying to reopen many tourism destinations, a number of local government chiefs are hesitant to do so, fearing a potential outbreak. For now, test cases that will be reopening are Baguio and the Ilocos region; Boracay, which has reopened to Western Visayas tourists; El Nido; and Bohol, which will be hosting an international travel fair.
“We are trying to help local destinations to reopen. We have been giving them online digital platform [to monitor tourists]. But they are asking for Covid-19 testing centers. They said they will reopen if they have labs,” she said. The DOT has already submitted a proposal to the Department of Health to establish Covid testing labs in key destinations in the country.
International tourists arrivals from January to August 2020 fell by 76 percent to some 1.32 million. (See, “Arrivals down 76 percent, but travel fair nets buyers,” in the BusinessMirror, September 17, 2020.)
With Jovee Marie N. Dela CruzImage credits: Dmitry Pichugin | Dreamstime.com