THE Department of Tourism (DoT) is allocating P6 billion to help the domestic tourism industry weather the fallout from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

This as international tourist arrivals to the country slumped by 42% in February, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said on Wednesday.

At a press conference, she said the government is rolling out several initiatives to promote domestic tourism to make up for the loss of foreign travelers.

“To strengthen this public-private partnership initiative, we have the tourism resiliency program. The DoT will be allocating P6 billion that will span international and domestic promotions, infrastructure, and regional tourism development,” Ms. Romulo-Puyat said.

Of the P6 billion, P2.2 billion will be used for infrastructure development in top tourist spots, including Coron and Puerto Galera, while P1.6 billion will go to upgrading secondary airports to be able to handle night flights.

The DoT is allocating P725 million for tactical programs, international events, and market development initiatives; P467 million for content creation targeting emerging countries not affected by COVID-19; P421 million will be for a new domestic travel campaign; and P400 million to aid the local government in developing tourism master plans.

The government will spend P85 million for training and disaster preparedness for COVID-19, and P11.2 million for the participation fees of the private sector for international trade fairs up to at least June.

Ms. Romulo-Puyat said the Philippines saw a 41.4% drop in international tourist arrivals to 418,126 in February from 713,394 a year earlier. In January, international arrivals rose 9.8% to 787,307 from 716,716 in the same month last year.

DoT data showed Philippine international tourism revenues in February dropped by 41% to P26.73 billion from P45.6 billion in the same month last year.

The Philippines has imposed a travel ban to and from China, Hong Kong and Macau. It lifted the barely week-long travel ban to South Korea, except for North Gyeongsang Province, on March 2.

South Korea and China are two of the Philippines’ biggest sources of tourist arrivals. Of the 8.26 million visitor arrivals last year, South Korean tourists accounted for 1.98 million, followed by Chinese tourists (1.74 million) and American tourists (1.06 million).

As fears over the COVID-19 outbreak persist, hotel occupancy rates in popular tourist spots have plunged. In February, hotel occupancy rates in Boracay slumped by around 40%, while Cebu occupancy fell by 27% and Bohol occupancy slid by 40%.

“It has not spared any of us in the industry, whether you’re a small company or one of the bigger tour operators,” Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) President Jose C. Clemente III said.

“We’re bleeding already,” he added, saying that the domestic market will not make up for losses in the international market even as the industry cuts prices.

Mr. Clemente said Western market demand, which was previously stable despite the outbreak, is now declining as even travelers from the United States cancel plans.

“We are now experiencing some cancellations and some foregone business from that market,” he said.

The DoT is targeting its promotion efforts to markets in Western Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and neighboring Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said the department has enough funds for its efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

“Yes, we have enough budget. I just received a guidance from the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) during our Cabinet meeting last Monday. He has pointed out to us that we have about close to P530 million available budget of the DoH that we can use in the meantime that we are awaiting the P2 billion plus approved by President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte but which will need Congressional nod. So we’re awaiting that,” Mr. Duque said in a press conference.

He said that the additional budget will also be used in procurement of materials such as personal protective equipment for medical personnel, among others.

The World Health Organization said there are now more than 90,000 cases of COVID-19 globally and more than 3,000 fatalities, most of which are from China where the disease was first detected. The WHO said the death rate is 3.4%. — Jenina P. Ibañez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas