Manila, Philippines — Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat today assured the country of the tourism industry’s fortitude and resiliency through the global health crisis brought by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in 60 countries, including the Philippines.
Sec. Puyat said boosting domestic tourism may yet turn the adverse effects of the coronavirus into an opportunity to showcase the country as a safe and fun destination.
“This is temporary. We will bounce back and recover,” said Sec. Puyat as she rallied members of the Tourism Coordinating Council (TCC) during a special meeting she called this morning at the Makati Diamond Residences in Makati City. The TCC is a 25-agency body created under RA 9593 or the Tourism Act of 2009 with the DOT Chief as chairperson, to serve as the coordinating body for national tourism development efforts.
She convened the council to tackle measures to mitigate the effects of the global pandemic threat on the country’s tourism industry.
Joining Sec. Puyat at the TCC meeting were Sec. Roy Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Sec. Silvestre Bello, of the Department of Labor (DOLE). Also present were representatives of other TCC member agencies, private sector and non-government organizations (NGOs).
In a media briefing that followed, the DOT Chief outlined the DOT programs aimed to cushion the blow on the tourism sector which employs 5.3 million Filipinos, and sustains it until the health scare subsides.
In view of the economic losses incurred by the tourism industry from the massive outbreak of COVID-19 in other countries, including the country’s top visitor markets Korea and China, Sec. Puyat said the adverse effects may be mitigated by boosting domestic tourism.
“We will showcase the Philippines as a safe destination, which in fact it is, and we will have no less than PRRD to promote our local destinations starting with Boracay where he will visit the rehabilitated areas.”
She lauded the private sector for the “all-out support,” citing that had various airlines started rolling out discounted airfares for domestic flights until the promos culminated Tuesday night where all three companies gave their biggest sale in recent history.
Sec. Puyat also commended DOT-accredited hotels and resorts that committed to lowering their rates from 30-70 percent off of published and online rates in order to be competitive with neighboring Southeast Asian countries. Tour packages are also in season with many accredited tour operators giving up to 70 percent discounts.
“To strengthen this private-public partnership initiative, the DOT will be allocating approximately PHP 6 billion pesos that will span international and domestic promotions, infrastructure, and regional tourism development,” Sec. Puyat added.
The DOT Chief stressed that there is no cause for panic, even as the Department of Health (DOH) has performed a commendable job containing the possible coronavirus spread since the death of one of three confirmed cases of COVID-19, all Chinese nationals who came from Wuhan in January.
“It is important to note that the Department of Health’s current data would show that traveling around the country remains safe, highlighted by the fact that we don’t have any local transmissions,” said Sec. Puyat.
She noted that even before the temporary ban was enforced, the DOT had already cascaded the proper guidelines for accommodation establishments on how to deal with guests in light of the COVID-19. These protocols include the use of infrared thermometers to check one’s temperature, screening guidelines and provision for more available hand sanitizer in the premises.
Sec. Puyat also disclosed that PHP 85 million will be allocated for training on COVID-19 orientation, preparedness, response and protocols for industry stakeholders. The DOT’s manpower development office will tweak its Filipino Brand of Service module to include points on how to handle guests for COVID-19 and response. This will include the integration of DOH guidelines in all training.
During the TCC meeting, Sec. Cimatu agreed with Sec. Puyat to turn the world health crisis into an opportunity to step up efforts to rehabilitate and upgrade the country’s tourist destinations.
Sec. Cimatu disclosed that Puerto Galera will soon start constructing its sewage treatment plant on a one-hectare property donated by a private individual.
Labor Sec. Bello meanwhile assured assistance to those workers who may be affected by the crisis and skills training will be available at TESDA.
On the other hand, the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jose Clemente III urged the DOT and the DOH to come up with standard regular updates on the COVID-19 situation.