PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte will join a domestic travel campaign starting next week to convince Filipinos to visit local spots in the face of an international tourism decline because of a novel coronavirus outbreak.

The tourism sector is expected to lose P14.8 billion this month alone, based on average spending of tourists in 2017 to 2019, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said at a briefing on Monday.

Mr. Duterte will join trips to Boracay, Cebu, and Bohol, she said.

“He wants to go through the proper protocols to show that it’s safe to travel around the country,” she added.

The private sector is offering lower rates for the domestic market after cancellations from international tourists, with hotels and restaurants cutting rates by up to 50%. Airlines will also offer lower fares.

The Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) said as much as 40% of Boracay flights had seen canceled since the travel ban on China, Macau and Hong Kong was imposed early this month.

TCP President Jose C. Clemente III told reporters the sector would focus on the domestic market until the second quarter.

“Hopefully, by the end of the second quarter we will be able to resume getting back our arrivals from the international market.”

He said the travel decline would have to go past six months before the situation becomes “catastrophic” for small businesses.

“If it drags on, it becomes catastrophic for the smaller players in the industry,” Mr. Clemente said, adding that Chinese tour operators might be forced to close shop.

But most companies remained open, and the effect on employment had not been substantial, he said.

The country remained a safe travel destination the Tourism department said in a statement, citing hygiene and monitoring standards it was enforcing.

The agency said it would start a program for value-added tour packages, discounted accommodation rates and lower prices for domestic flights.

“The DoT will intensify its marketing and promotions domestically and internationally in key markets such as South Korea, the United States and Japan,” it said. — Jenina P. Ibañez