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Tourism stakeholders, travel agencies set to receive aid amid COVID-19 crisis

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The Department of Tourism (DoT) recently announced its recovery plans to aid the private tourism sector in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Following appeals by the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) to provide aid to local travel agencies bearing the brunt of the pandemic, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said that the government’s Tourism Response and Recovery Program has been outlined and is underway.

“To cushion the impact, the DoT and its attached agencies, even before the lockdown, laid out the response and recovery plan during the initial stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country with the tourism sector taking a direct hit early on,” Secretary Puyat said, noting that the DoT will be extending a wide range of assistance not only to tour operators but to the entire travel and hospitality sector.

Ms. Puyat noted that some points and suggestions raised by the PTAA have been incorporated in the program, along with additional incentives lined up by the DoT and its attached agencies to help tourism-related businesses and their workforce get back on their feet.

The country’s tourism sector has recently made headlines for its outstanding contributions to the Philippine economy, with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) commending the sector last year for its significant growth in recent years, emphasizing its large contribution to the economy.

Based on results from the WTTC’s Benchmarking report, it said the travel and tourism sector was the largest sector in the Philippines in 2018, contributing $82 billion to the country’s economy or contributing nearly 25% share to total gross domestic product.

Among the government’s recovery plan for the sector is the implementation of 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 have also waived the participation fees in international fairs and exhibitions between now and the end of 2021.

The DoT also led 20 sweeper flights as assistance to embassies helping many of the travel trade’s clients leave the country. As of April 14, 2020, the DoT was able to extend assistance to 19,898 foreign tourists and 1,456 domestic tourists.

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), Business Process Outsourcing companies, and bank workers weathering the crisis, meanwhile, were provided rooms in collaboration with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. As of April 13, 2020, the DoT was able to find a total of 13,116 rooms in the National Capital Region for OFWs and 25,687 rooms for BPO agents, bank workers, and health frontliners.

As part of the recovery program, the Department of Labor (DoLE) was notified of the list of displaced workers from various tourism-related enterprises for cash assistance. Along with other industries, employees of tourism enterprises will be provided with a P5,000 – P8,000 wage subsidy per worker under Department of Finance’s program.

Tourism frontliners were also recommended to become eligible for Hazard Pay for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine, especially those who work at accommodation establishments that house health workers and repatriated OFWs and risk contamination to COVID-19.

The DoT has also been communicating with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) to provide rehabilitation financing support like extending low-interest loans for tourism enterprises severely affected by the COVID-19.

Relative to this, the DBP has identified the tourism industry under COVID-19 as qualifying under its program called Rehabilitation Support Program on Severe Events or RESPONSE, which aims to provide rehabilitation financing support through low-interest loans to business, which have been adversely affected by calamities. The LBP will also assist tourism stakeholders under its program called: Rehabilitation Support to Cushion Unfavorably Affected Enterprises by COVID-19 (I-RESCUE) Lending Program.

Workers in the sector are also set to receive aid as part of the government’s response. Appropriate representation has been made with the Social Security System (SSS), PAGIBIG Fund, and PhilHealth for the deferment of tourism workers’ contributions. Upon these representations, PhilHealth has agreed to extend the deadline to remit the members’ savings/contributions until two weeks after the lifting of the ECQ without any penalty.

PAGIBIG has also agreed to extend its deadline of payment of premium contributions for the first quarter of 2020 to 30 April 2020. SSS agreed to extend the deadline for the remittance of contributions until June 1, 2020.

On the other hand, for the requested deferment of corporate income tax payments by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, as well as other interventions which require the action of other government agencies, the DoT has made the necessary representation with the proper government agencies for these interventions and will follow up on behalf of the travel industry.

And while concerns regarding rent and utility discounts, and travel agency commission from airlines are normally matters governed by contracts between private parties, and not subject to government intervention, they can be subject to legislation that can provide financing or subsidies.

Such matters are to be raised by the DoT to Congress, which is also currently considering a bill granting a fiscal stimulus package to the tourism industry. – BJORN BIEL M. BELTRAN

 

 





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