‘Tourism can help government pay off PHL’s humongous debt’

Tourists walk along the shore of Boracay beach in this file photo.

NEED funds to service our government debts? The tourism industry can help.

That’s according to Tourism Congress of the Philippines president Jose C. Clemente III. “It’s also advantageous for us to keep promoting to international markets because we need foreign exchange. You always talk about the ballooning debt and we will be needing forex to service those loans. And what would be the fastest and easiest ways to bring in forex? It’s tourism,” Clemente said in an interview over OneNews’ Agenda on Tuesday.

The Philippines recorded some P13 trillion in debts as of end-April 2022. Of that amount, 30 percent or some P4 trillion were sourced externally, while the rest are domestic borrowings.

He was asked whether the Department of Tourism (DOT) is correct in prioritizing domestic tourism to boost the industry’s recovery. The veteran tourism leader acknowledged that domestic travelers helped “save” the industry in the first months of the country’s reopening to the outside world.  “That said, we should not forget that foreign tourists are also coming in. We were quite surprised, when [government] announced that we would reopen on February 10, we were inundated by inquiries. That means, the Philippines remained on top of their consciousness,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, the Philippines received 8.26 million foreign tourists in 2019, a historic high, which generated $9.31 billion (P521.4 billion) in visitor receipts. From February 24 to July 10, the country received 877,279 foreign tourists, according to data provided by the DOT.

Easier entry policies urged

Clemente also said government should make it easier for foreign travelers to secure a visa to the Philippines to help boost tourist arrivals and visitor receipts. “We aren’t able to gain as much momentum [in tourist arrivals] as other Asean countries, which have easier entry policies. Sometimes we have archaic immigration or visa rules that hamper the markets that we would want to [attract].” He cited India among the nearby markets the Philippines could tap, adding he often receives travel inquiries from that country. In 2019, there were 27 million outbound travelers from India.

An insider at the Department of Foreign Affairs told the BusinessMirror that India has not been granted visa-free status because “of the same reason the US does not grant us [Filipinos] visa-free entry.” A few years back, India was supposedly granted visa upon arrival (VUA) status, but when a Philippine Airlines flight landed at the Kalibo International Airport, the Indian passengers were not allowed to enter because the local immigration officers were not aware of the VUA policy. The plane had to return to New Delhi with disappointed Indian travelers, who were supposed to visit Boracay.

Airports, seaports a major concern

Clemente also expressed support for the DOT’s focus on improving accessibility to the country and other destinations by building more infrastructure, and enhancing the visitor experience at airports. “Our airports have been one of our biggest concerns since before. It is the first impression [of a country] when tourists come in. Also, we should have room for expansion as far as our airports are concerned, as we were already on an uptrend [in arrivals] prior to the pandemic.

He added, the Philippines has been positioned as a major cruise destination but many ports are still wanting. “When [cruise ships come to Manila], they arrive at the North Harbor, which is empty, and looks like a cargo port,” compared to other cruise destinations, he said, which have “beautiful passenger terminals.” (See, “DOT seeks to rationalize airports development to boost tourist connections,” in the BusinessMirror, July 15, 2022.)

For her part, Tet Romualdo, director for membership of the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association., said aside from improving infrastructure, tourism recovery will only be possible “[with] the coordinated response to the resumption of travel of the leaders and officials, which include providing clear roadmaps, rules, and mobility protocols so that it will provide certainty and restore consumer confidence.”

HSMA hopes to bring up the lack of synchronicity among digital apps being used by travelers to the Philippines to Tourism Secretary-designate Christina Garcia Frasco. “We should have one working synchronized app [which] can be used wherever they go in the country,” especially for contract-tracing purposes, said Romualdo.

Image credits: AP

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