DEPUTY Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel on Friday criticized the Department of Tourism (DoT) and tourism stakeholders for saying tourism infrastructure should not be a priority of the government in its effort to rebuild the tourism sector.
"It is unfortunate that Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat herself does not want to prioritize the infrastructure needs of most of the beautiful sites in the far-flung provinces in the country, Pimentel said in a statement.
“I am inviting our good Secretary to visit the far-flung areas to see the problems for herself. If they are just staying in their air-conditioned offices in Manila, they can’t see what is lacking,” said Pimentel.
“The Department of Tourism is opposing the allocation of funds to put up much needed infrastructure. It’s as if they do not care for the very provinces where the tourism sites are located,” Pimentel stressed
The Mindanao lawmaker urged Romulo-Puyat to show Congress “a better plan to rebuild the tourism sector” if she and other tourism stakeholders refuse to fund tourism infrastructure facilities.
“Most of the tourist spots in the provinces lack access roads, have no comfort rooms, and lack facilities. If we do not fund tourism infrastructure, we will be completely left behind by other countries,” he said.
Citing the performance of the country in the 2019 World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, Pimentel said the Philippines has weaker infrastructure than other key tourist destinations in the Southeast Asian Region.
While the overall competitiveness ranking of the Philippines improved four places from 79th (out of 136) to 75th (out of 140 countries) last year, its tourism competitiveness ranking is still lower than those of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Singapore. The Philippines is only higher in ranking than Laos and Cambodia.
The index measures the performance of 140 countries according to their tourism competitiveness in infrastructure, the business enabling environment, travel and tourism policy and enabling condition, and natural and cultural resources.
“I hope our Tourism Secretary will listen to the real tourism sector about their problems and not just to the group of travel agencies or resort owners,” he said.
He also said he hopes the tourism industry stakeholders will seize the opportunity of rebuilding the tourism infrastructure now that there is pandemic, giving assurance that credit facilities will be available to support the needs of struggling tourism enterprises.
The chairperson of the House committee on tourism and Laguna Rep. Sol Aragones on Friday clarified that the tourism sector would still have access to billions of pesos under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, or Bayanihan 2.
Aragones revealed that Congress had even set up meetings between tourism stakeholders and government financial institutions so that they could easily obtain loans to help them survive the adverse economic impact of the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Hindi po tinanggal ang working capital na assistance sa ating mga stakeholders; ito ay maaari pa din nila makuha sa 51 billion pesos na allocation para sa assistance sa mga government financing institutions,” said Aragones.
According to Aragones, “nalaman po natin na nahirapan silang mag loan sa mga bangko noong Bayanihan 1, at ayaw po natin na mangyari ulit ito sa kanila kaya naman tutulungan sila ng Kongreso.”
Aragones said that members of Congress on Tuesday met with members of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) to explain that the 10 billion pesos allocated for tourism-related infrastructure projects under the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) would not deprive the sector of access to financial assistance. This is in addition to the allocated 100 million pesos allocated to finance the training and subsidies for tourist guides.
“Pinaliwanag po natin na holistic ang approach ng House version ng Bayanihan 2, at iginiit namin na yung loans naman ay ma-avail nila dun sa 51 billion-peso allocation to GFIs (government financial institutions). In fact, dahil dito, hindi lang limited to 10 billion pesos ang pwedeng makuha ng industriya,” stressed the solon.
“Kaya holistic ang approach ng Kongreso kasi bukod sa nais natin tulungan ang tourism stakeholders sa working capital, kasabay din nito ay ang paghahanda sa muling pagbangon ng industriya.”
The legislator pointed out that “hindi lang kalsada ang sakop ng inilagay na pondo para sa TIEZA; kasama na rin ang cellsites sa mga tourist destinations at pagpapaganda ng mga tourist spots na kinakailangan ayusin.”
Another meeting involving tourism stakeholders, GFIs, and the government economic team will be set by Congress to iron out details to ensure that the tourism sector will be able to access the loans faster, on top of a 365-day grace period for loans that has been integrated into the House version of Bayanihan 2.
“Congress recognizes the invaluable contributions of the tourism sector to our economy, and understand that helping it survive this pandemic is crucial if we want our economy to bounce back,” said Aragones.
“We just want to assure the tourism sector na hindi po sila pababayaan, and want to make it clear that we are not funding tourism infrastructure at the expense of tourism sector financial assistance packages––lahat po yan may pondo. It is precisely because Congress recognizes the importance of the industry that it has provided all these funds for the sector.”
Investing in tourism infrastructure, added Aragones, also has a multiplier effect that not only helps the tourism sector in the medium and long-term, but generates employment and much-needed economic activity in areas that are dependent on tourism but have been severely affected by worldwide travel restrictions.
Data also shows that Tourism Direct Gross Value Added (TDGVA) to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)––or the contribution of tourism industries to the Philippine economy––is estimated at 12.7%, a figure translates to 2.2 trillion pesos. The tourism industry is also responsible for employing 5.4 million Filipinos, or 13% of employment in the country.