By Macon Araneta

More than five million workers in the Travel and Tourism industry must be saved from losing their jobs to boost economic recovery when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Sen. Imee Marcos said.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, said Travel and Tourism made up more than 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product but have been the “longest-suffering industry” since the viral outbreaks in China and Korea, the Philippines’ largest tourist markets.

“A cut in the marketing and advertising budget of the Department of Tourism (DoT), amid the slump in domestic and international travel, can be used instead to subsidize payrolls of Tourism partners especially in micro-, small- and medium-enterprises (MSMEs),” said Marcos.

She said the Finance department should look into this, since government has already spent 90 percent of its supplemental budget and is now asking for more funds from Congress.

She also cited DoT’s recent ads on CNN International and social media.

The government’s latest community quarantine restrictions, Marcos said, have given a low priority for modes of transport, travel agencies, tour operators, hotels, resorts, restaurants and bars to resume operations due to their perceived risk of spreading COVID-19.

“Even local tourists in Boracay, Cebu, and Ilocos have dwindled. It’s unlikely that promoting domestic travel right now will make up for the slump in arrivals from China and Korea. Better to spend on payroll support for the Tourism sector’s MSMEs until COVID-19 blows over,” she also said. 

Despite Boracay’s six-month closure in 2018, the surge of tourist arrivals grew from a year earlier and continued in January to October 2019 when visitors from China grew by 41 percent to more than 1.5 million, and those from Korea by 22 percent to more than 1.6 million.

By December, when COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, the DoT recorded a total of about 6.8 million tourist arrivals, or a more than 15 percent increase from 2018, contributing about PHP2.5 trillion to the economy.

“The significant impact of Travel and Tourism on the country’s economic growth is clear. Their workers must be saved,” Marcos said.