THE Department of Tourism (DoT) said tourism revenue fell 40.62% year on year in the first quarter, after the industry experienced travel disruptions and lockdowns due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

At a virtual hearing of the House tourism committee on Tuesday, Tourism Secretary Bernadette T. Romulo-Puyat said revenue for the three months to March totaled P79.8 billion, after a 40.2% decline in visitor arrivals during the quarter to 1.31 million.

Ms. Romulo-Puyat said the DoT will launch the Tourism Response and Recovery Program to aid the industry. The program will observe a moratorium on the collection of accreditation fees from new and renewing applicants; provide incentives for domestic tourism; extend interest-free loans for businesses; and provide amelioration assistance for displaced workers, among others.

The DoT also implemented an online training program for workers and developed an application known as Maze, which is designed “to address the congestion of people in essential places by crowdsourc(ed) information on the crowd status of a specific area.”

The DoT said it will also require the regular sanitation of accommodations and tourism transport vehicles; provide sanitation and disinfecting devices for tourism workers; and develop online systems to facilitate tourism-related transactions.

Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) President Jose C. Clemente III said that TCP’s main concern now is “weathering the storm” for the next several months as tourism is not expected to bounce back immediately.

“What we have now is a question of survival for the industry. I fully support the proposal of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines that we need wage subsidies. And at the same time, there should be a window for private facilities that will enable these businesses to have start-up capital… because by this time working capital might have been used up already,” former Tourism Undersecretary Oscar P. Palabyab said.

Meanwhile, Philippine Hotel Owners Association Director Jeffrey Ng said the organization “welcomes” the P42 billion funding earmarked under the economic stimulus package pending in the House of Representatives.

“We very much welcome the funding in the stimulus package of something like P42 billion which these hotel owners will need as zero or negative interest loans for the next five years just to be able to survive,” he said.

Previously known as the Philippine Economic Recovery Act, the latest draft of the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act intends to inject about P1.3 trillion to P1.4 trillion in the first year of the intervention period of 2020-2022 to help workers and businesses deal with the effects of COVID-19. — Genshen L. Espedido