Everybody knows that the tourism industry is one of those severely affected by this pandemic.
Unfortunately, it is the sector responsible for 12.7 percent of our country’s gross domestic product and 13.5 percent of our national employment. It is also the sector predicted to take the longest to recover, as the public’s confidence to travel again may start to show signs of life only by mid-next year yet or even later, depending on when the vaccine will be made available.
Meantime, all tourism enterprises are already gasping for breath as we have had no income these past six months, and we are still in a quandary as to how to survive until the time when the much needed revenues will start to trickle in once again.
This is why all of us, stakeholders in the industry, were delighted when the Bayanihan 2 Act was filed, allocating P10 billion as “life support” for the legion of MSMEs in the industry, already on the brink of extinction. The amount was earmarked for low-interest loans, credit facilities, funding for marketing and product development, grants for capacity building in the “new reality,” funding for upgraded information technology capabilities, and the establishment of COVID-19 testing centers in tourist destinations.
Unfortunately, when the Bill was approved on second reading in the Lower House, the P10 billion originally set aside for the aforementioned purpose was realigned for the funding of infrastructure projects through the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA). The Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP), which is the umbrella organization officially representing the industry’s private sector, immediately sent a formal letter of request to the House of Representatives to keep the amount as originally designated.
A similar official request, all of 25 pages, was also sent by the Department of Tourism (DOT), asserting its mandate as “the primary planning, programming, coordinating, implementing, and regulatory government agency in the development and promotion of domestic and international tourism.” Together with this formal request, the DOT also submitted to the Lower House a summary of the different stimulus packages that the governments of other ASEAN countries have given to their respective tourism stakeholders, towards making our honorable congressmen realize how much far behind we are in getting government support to keep us afloat.
As of this writing, press releases from Congressman Villafuerte claim that infrastructure development would be a better stimulus to the economy. That might be a noble move, but business owners feel that the immediate need is for them to survive and recover from their debilitating losses caused by this pandemic. Otherwise, there will be no tourism industry to speak of. In fact, approximately 70 percent of the industry’s MSMEs have already announced closure.
Although Congressman Villafuerte has made it clear that there still is P51 billion allocated to help out SMEs, we don’t find that good enough as we will have to slug it out with those of other industries who are also desperately in need of financial support. In fact, with the government’s widely announced Social Amelioration Programs, a majority of our tourism enterprises have yet to see, much less make use of such financial assistance.
Now, from out of nowhere, we hear that the honorable congressman has warned us not to drag the Lower House into our internal “squabbles.” Where did that come from? What squabbles? In fact, never have we been as united as we are now. Without exception, all of us, industry stakeholders, are solidly behind Sec. Berna Romulo-Puyat in our desire to have the P10 billion entrusted back to the DOT.
We are the ones on the ground and these past years, we have successfully maneuvered the industry to unprecedented heights, as shown by the robust pre-COVID tourist arrival figures. We know what we need, and the P10 billion would go a long way in saving ourselves from the ignominy of having to sell fish, longganisa, and other food items just to stay afloat!
Otherwise, we will need more heart-lung machines, if we are to maintain a decent tourism industry after this pandemic is controlled.
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