FINANCIAL assistance to the tourism sector, which has been sorely devastated by the Covid-19 international travel restrictions, continues to remain largely untapped, according to government agencies.
Speaking at a news conference from Bohol on Tuesday, Grace Fate R. Dalisay, Chief Accounts Management Specialist of the Small Business Corp. (SBCorp) said, “As of today, we received a total of 281 [loan] applications equivalent to P175 million [for] the P6-billion fund for the revitalization of the tourism-related enterprises.”
Under the Bayanihan 2 Act, micro, small, and medium scale tourism enterprises may tap SB Corp’s CARES for Travel program for working capital loans, which are collateral-free and have zero interest rate.
In Region 7 (Central Visayas) alone, to which Bohol belongs, SBCorp received 25 loan applications from tourism enterprises for P28 million.
Dalisay appealed to the tourism associations “to help us [SBCorp] encourage our hotels and tourism operators to avail of the loans.”
The Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) hosted the news briefing during while conducting an inventory of Bohol as a tourism destination and a MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions) familiarization tour with tourism associations, MICE organizers, and representatives of the National Recovery Task Force.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat also expressed concern about the slow uptake on financial aid from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
Over the weekend, DOLE reported 7,477 tourism workers received some P37.4 million in financial aid from the Bayanihan funds as of December 4. This accounted for some 61.7 percent of the total applications approved so far by the agency, or 12,121 tourism workers from 720 establishments. However, these beneficiaries account for only 1.2 percent of the over 600,000 workers from tourism micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), estimated by the DOT to have been affected by closures of their establishments or now work shorter hours.
She told the BusinessMirror, “It’s been slow,” so under new guidelines issued by the DOLE and DOT, titled “Expanded Coverage of Beneficiaries Under DOLE-DOT Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2020-001,” beneficiaries now include tourism workers who have already benefited from the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Social Amelioration Program and the Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program under the first Bayanihan Act, as well as workers of affected establishments that implemented flexible work arrangements or alternative work schemes.
Also, secondary tourism enterprises licensed by their respective local government units are now covered by the financial aid.
So far, 36,446 tourism workers from 1,210 establishments have submitted their applications for financial aid from the DOLE, with the most number of applications for aid, at 10,719, from Central Visayas, where many of Cebu’s hotels and resorts continue to remain shuttered. This was followed by the National Capital Region or Metro Manila, at 6,217 applications.
Romulo Puyat urged tourism enterprises, associations and local government units to help in providing the necessary documentary requirements for the affected tourism workers. Under the Bayanihan 2 Act, DOLE has P3 billion in funds for disbursement to affected tourism workers.
“This initiative of the DOT and DOLE has widened the scope of recipients of this financial assistance program and accommodates those who have already availed of existing programs open to the tourism sector. Hopefully, the program’s take-up rate significantly improves to reach more members of the micro, small- and medium enterprises [MSMEs] and more importantly, those belonging to the informal sector,” she said in a news statement.
Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) President Jose C. Clemente said, from his discussions with some stakeholders, “some said their approved loan was only for P50,000, since their application was based on their submitted financial statements.”
He added, “Others are just plain afraid to borrow. They’re concerned about what would happen if they are unable to repay the debt. Although I already explained to them, SBCorp just needs them to write a letter in case they feel sometime, they will no longer be able to repay their loan in a year. It can be restructured.”
Also, “some are unsure how to use the money. For instance, one stakeholder in Cebu asked me if tourism transport companies could use the SBCorp loan to pay for their vehicle amortizations. According to SBCorp, the borrowers can use the loan for anything; it’s a working capital loan so that encompasses a lot.”
TPB Chief Operating Officer Ma. Anthonette Velasco-Allones, for her part, assured, “Unlike the workers’ aid, SBCorp has no deadline for its CARES for travel loan program.”
Clemente added TCP is now conducting a survey to find out the other reasons behind the poor uptake on SBCorp loans. The TCP had been at the frontlines with the DOT, fighting to get some form of financial aid for tourism stakeholders, during the lawmakers discussions over Bayanihan 2.
Earlier, Clemente even expressed concern that the Bayanihan 2 funds were too small, not all stakeholders would be able to benefit. (See, “Reality of allocating limited tourism financial aid sets in,” in the BusinessMirror, August 25, 2020.)