‘Foreign travel unlikely this year’

MANILA, Philippines, May 3 ------ Plans to travel abroad after the two-month enhanced community quarantine will have to wait until next year, according to the Department of Tourism (DOT). “International travel might not happen this year. At this point in time, traveling (abroad) is but a dream,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said during a virtual hearing of the House committee on tourism on Tuesday. Puyat did not say whether such policy would cover domestic travel as she revealed plans for a “new normal” in the tourism industry. The new normal will be implemented until a vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is found. She said there would be mandatory regular sanitation or disinfection of hotels and accommodation facilities, tourism transport services and tourism-related establishments such as meeting and exhibit venues, restaurants and spas. Puyat said inspection of tourism establishments would be conducted regularly. Sanitation and disinfecting devices, including personal protective equipment, will be provided for tourism workers. She said the DOT would pursue the development of online systems that can facilitate tourism-related transactions digitally such as applications for accreditation, training and modules, and retail. Hotels are advised to establish systems for contactless check-in, where guests can simply get their keycards and proceed straight to their rooms. Hotels may have to do away with breakfast buffets that require guests to use the same serving spoons to get food. Instead, hotels will provide bento boxes, expand their kitchens and institute better spacing of tables to allow proper social distancing. Puyat said the DOT plans to limit the capacity of tourism transportation, restaurants and tourist spots such as parks, museums and meeting/convention facilities. Aside from these plans for the new normal, she said the DOT implemented the Tourism Response and Recovery Program during the initial stages of the pandemic to help tourism-related businesses and their workforce get back on their feet. The DOT earlier implemented a moratorium on the collection of accreditation fees from new and renewing applicants from tourism enterprises (TEs) and tourism-related enterprises (TREs) for the year 2020. The DOT and the Tourism Promotions Board waived participation fees in international fairs and exhibitions set between now and the end of 2021. Under the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act of 2020, the DOT will get at least P43 billion to assist affected businesses in the tourism industry. During the hearing, DOT officials said they are planning to use P36 billion to extend soft loans to tourism enterprises, P4 billion for projects of the Philippine Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, P500 million each for domestic and international tourism promotion and capacity building for industry stakeholders training, and P1.5 billion for tourism crisis response by supporting private sector activities. Puyat said the year-on-year revenue in the tourism sector dropped by 40 percent in the first quarter to P79.8 billion from P134.3 billion last year. She said there were only 1.3 million tourist arrivals from January to March as compared to the 2.2 million in the same period last year. The DOT pledged to bring home local tourists who are stranded in various tourist sites in the country due to the enhanced community quarantine. The agency welcomed the approval by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) of its request to charter and fund sweeper flights for qualified stranded local tourists from other regions to the National Capital Region. There are at least 2,390 local tourists stranded in various places in the country. Stranded tourists can get in touch with the DOT regional offices and wait for the schedule of sweeper flights. Source: gmanetwork.com