Philippines’ tourism sector urges government aid; plots recovery

Philippine tourism players are joining a chorus of travel businesses and bodies worldwide calling on government to suspend taxes and extend further relief to companies embroiled in financial turmoil due to Covid-19.

Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) president Ritchie Tuano said that as a third of the country enters its third week of lockdown with “grim and uncertain prospects on when the pandemic will be brought under control”, travel agents have proposed to the Department of Tourism (DoT) a list of recommendations for their survival and medium-term recovery.

Tourism businesses in the Philippines cry for government help amid Covid-19; Manila in the Philippines pictured

The list includes “supplemental and wider coverage of government-provided financial grants and assistance from this month (April) up to at least end-2020” to avoid layoffs and business closures in an industry where the majority are SMEs, said Tuano.

PTAA said in a statement that while government remedial measures such as flexible work arrangement and financial assistance through the Covid-19 adjustment measure programme are a big help to employees, they are “certainly not adequate to ensure the survival of travel agents” after the lockdown.

“Business owners are anxious and greatly concerned on how to keep their businesses afloat for the near and immediate term, (having to continue paying for) overhead expenses with little to zero sales coming in,” it added.

In addition, PATA Philippine Chapter chair Bob Zozobrado said that nine associations, including PTAA, that met last month had also requested the DoT for financial assistance for displaced and underemployed workers, which has now been taken care of by the Department of Labor and Employment’s financial assistance programme.

Zozobrado further shared that they also appealed to the DoT for tax holidays or concessions for employers and employees, which the DoT will discuss with the Department of Finance.

In the meantime, Philippine tourism players are hardly resting on their laurels, and are using the downtime to prep for when the market revives.

Bella Calleja, new country manager of Rida International Travel and Tourism, promoting mainly the United Arab Emirates, said: “We are not really expecting to recover this year because even the Expo 2020 in Dubai is cancelled and we are its ticketing agent.

“But our team is focusing on recovery (next year). We have released some packages valid from September onwards and we are hoping that things would improve by next year.”

Calleja added that the agency is turning to online marketing to remain in the public eye and give hope to its agents. “We are doing webinars; our local offices are preparing the presentations and we are inviting agents to join us. We also have plans to partner with NTOs,” she said.

Furthermore, Zozobrado said that tourism players are in the midst of reconnecting with contacts formed through international events or on their travels to “further solidify our market base for when we re-start our marketing efforts” when travel rebounds.

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