April 15, 2020
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo–Puyat assures the public that the Department of Tourism (DOT) is doing everything within its mandate to aid the stakeholders of the country’s tourism industry in light of the COVID–19 pandemic.
The assertion comes on the heels of the appeal of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) for government to provide aid to local travel agencies weathering the impact of the Covid–19 pandemic.
Puyat noted that some points and suggestions raised by the PTAA have been incorporated in the Tourism Response and Recovery Program as well as incentives lined up by the DOT and its attached agencies to help tourism–related businesses and their work force get back on their feet.
“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 added, 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.
The DOT’s immediate response actions include 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.
Also among the immediate response of DOT was mounting its own 20 sweeper flights and assisting those by embassies that helped many of the travel trade’s clients leave the country. As of 14 April 2020, the DOT was able to extend assistance to 19,898 foreign tourists and 1,456 domestic tourists.
The DOT was also able to assist the OWWA in looking for rooms for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies, and bank workers. As of 13 April 2020, the DOT was able to find a total of 13,116 rooms in the NCR for OFWs and 25,687 rooms for BPO agents, bank workers, and health frontliners.
The DOT also submitted to the Department of Labor (DOLE) 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 5 to 8 thousand peso wage subsidy per worker under DOF’s program.
The agency likewise lobbied with the DOLE to include tourism front–liners among the recipients of Hazard Pay for the duration of the ECQ, especially those who work at accommodation establishments that house health workers and repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and risk contamination to COVID–19.
In response to to the appeal of the travel industry, 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 such as, but not limited to, extending low interest loans for tourism enterprises that have been 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 Land Bank of the Philippines will also assist tourism stakeholders under its program called: Rehabilitation Support to Cushion Unfavorably Affected Enterprises by Covid–19 (I–RESCUE) Lending Program.
The department has also made appropriate representation 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. Social Security System agreed to extend the deadline for the remittance of contributions until 01 June 2020.
On the other hand, for the requested deferment of corporate income tax payments by the BIR, 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.
As for the association’s request for rent and utility discounts, and travel agency commission from airlines, these are normally matters governed by contracts between private parties, and not subject to government intervention, but they can be subject of legislation which can provide financing or subsidies therefor. The same thing may be said for the association’s request for salary and travel tour expo subsidies. All these matters will be raised by the DOT to the Congress which is also currently considering a bill granting a fiscal stimulus package to the tourism industry.
The DOT assures its tourism stakeholders that it will continue to extend them assistance to cushion the impact of the crisis on the industry.