DOT asked for better plan to rebuild tourism sector

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.