• Melo Acuna

Soft loans needed to keep Tourism sector afloat

Tourism sector in dire straits; need for uniform health protocols

MANILA – Micro, small and medium enterprises into tourism are expecting the needed help through soft loans and stimulus packages as unemployed and hungry tourism workers hope to receive lifeline from the Departments of Trade and Industry and Labor and Employment.

This was how former Tourism Secretary Narzalina Lim looks at the possible ways to help the sector which has contributed about 13% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Interviewed for Sabi Nila section of Melo Acuna Reports Sunday afternoon, the former Tourism executive said about 5.7 million Filipinos are employed in hotels, travel agencies transport facilities while a much bigger number indirectly benefit from providing services and supplies to the industry.

She said it was unfortunate for the House of Representatives to provide P10 billion for tourism infrastructure projects as there are no activities these days.

“Many tourism establishments closed due to the pandemic as there would be more should the sector fail to receive the needed lifeline from the government,” she said. However, even Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said low interest loans, issuances of loan guarantees through government financial institutions with terms to last to five years for maintenance and operating expenses; credit facilities for upgrading, rehabilitation or modernization, to comply with new and health and safety standards and the establishment of COVID-19 testing centers would be more appreciated.

It was also learned the Tourism Congress of the Philippines under its president Jose Clemente III called on Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano to forego tourism infrastructure programs and focus on what’s needed to keep the sector alive.

Citing the latest figures from tourism expenditure surveys, foreign tourists on the average spend US$130 a day for hotel, food and transport in the country.

“There were four million tourists from January to June last year and we had just over a million foreign tourists on the first six months, the bulk was registered last January before COVID-19 control measures were imposed,” Secretary Lim said.

Bagsak na bagsak ang Turismo, at wala na rin ang revenues,” she added.

Asked of hotels, she said most barely make both ends meet. She said four-star hotels have accommodated returning overseas Filipinos with their bills paid by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for P3,500 a day while other hotels are paid P1,800 a day. All meals are provided by the hotels with minimal manpower complement.

“There are other hotels who cater to BPO workers,” she explained. It was learned the workers’ employers pay the bills.

She said Tourism Secretary Romulo-Puyat’s program to encourage domestic tourism is a step in the right direction. However, there should be a single protocol for health and safety measures as local government officials, even barangay officials have different parameters in accepting non-residents to their respective areas.

“In Tagaytay City, even homeowners cannot just come to their homes without certificates from the health office and permit to travel from the Philippine National Police. If homeowners cannot just come in, how much more of day tourists who simply want to enjoy fresh air, a view of Taal Volcano and have some sunlight?” Secretary Lim added.

She said while Boracay and Bohol have plans to open to domestic tourists, the local executives are aware that they can immediately implement measures should there be need for stricter COVID-19 response. It was also learned direct flights from Korea are expected in Panglao and Kalibo.

Asked if the coming Christmas Season would still be celebrated as the previous years, Secretary Lim said she’s not optimistic but hopes Christmas celebrations would be better next year. (Melo M. Acuña)

Breathtaking spots in Panglao, Bohol. (Melo Acuna photos)

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