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Tourism revenues plunge as foreign visitors stay away

TOURISM REVENUES last year plunged 83% to P81.4 billion after pandemic-related travel restrictions kept foreign visitors away.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Department of Tourism said revenues slumped from the P482.16 billion recorded in 2019 after the number of foreign visitor arrivals plummeted almost 84% to 1.3 million.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette T. Romulo-Puyat said domestic travel will still be the focus for industry revival this year.

She said the local governments still decide on the reopening of tourist destinations, but the department recommended stronger and unified contact tracing among local governments.

“To standardize travel protocols and encourage movement, there is a need to harmonize the different LGU (local government unit) requirements. To ensure good traveler experience, protocols for each tourism activity should be developed,” Ms. Romulo-Puyat said.

Areas that have reopened tourist destinations include Manila, Boracay, Palawan, Cebu, Bohol, Baguio, and Ilocos Norte.

The government will be revisiting its National Tourism Development Plan 2016-2022, changing the targets as the country focuses on domestic tourism in the short term. The plan originally targeted 12 million foreign arrivals and 89.2 million domestic travelers by 2022.

For international tourism, the government is willing to partner with neighboring countries for potential travel bubbles, Ms. Romulo-Puyat said.

“International travel bubbles demand the strict enforcement of health and safety protocols at the destination countries. The proper infrastructure needs to be established and certified by both governments.”

The Philippines may only see a significant rise in foreign tourist arrivals starting late 2021 or early 2022 as uncertainty over the pandemic continues, Fitch Ratings said in October, noting that the country’s low dependence on inbound tourism should limit overall economic impact.

Inbound tourism expenditure accounted for 3% of Philippine gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, while domestic tourism expenditure accounted for 16%. The tourism sector employed 5.7 million people that year.

Global financial industry association Institute of International Finance (IIF) said recovery would depend on the availability of the vaccine. The government is in talks with several vaccine manufacturers for 148 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to inoculate 50-70 million Filipinos this year.

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association expects some recovery as tourism corridors open by the first quarter of 2021, expecting more travel through the Holy Week and the summer.

But industry group Tourism Congress of the Philippines said recovery would depend on public reassurance of health safety as well as reasonable costs and ease of travel. — Jenina P. Ibañez

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