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Know more about what is going on in the Philippines.

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MANILA, Philippines — Coronavirus lockdowns that grounded planes and emptied hotels and resorts made tourism an unreliable economic engine last year, and recovery would highly depend on how fast the Philippines can exit the pandemic.

Tourism direct gross value added (TDGVA) accounted for 5.4% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) last year, significantly smaller than the industry’s 12.8% share in 2019, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released Wednesday showed.

In absolute terms, the tourism sector’s total contribution to the economy last year amounted to P973.31 billion only, plummeting 61.2% year-on-year. While the slump was significant, it was nevertheless expected after the Duterte administration sealed off the country’s borders last year in a desperate bid to arrest the coronavirus spread.

The tourism department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

For Nicholas Mapa, senior economist at ING Bank in Manila, the road to recovery would be a fragile one for tourism, with several travel restrictions still in place following an unexpected surge in infections earlier this year. “We will need to see the economic environment return to pre-pandemic levels, with job security and savings at a high level before we see Filipinos out and about and willing to part with some cash for some rest and recreation,” Mapa said in an e-mail exchange.

Broken down, inbound tourism expenditures, which tracked spending from foreign and balikbayan tourists, sagged 77.9% on an annual basis. This was not surprising at all after foreign arrivals plummeted 82.05% year-on-year to just 1.48 million last year based on tourism department data.

On the other hand, domestic tourism expenditure, which covered spending of Filipinos either for local or international trips, sank a bigger 82.3% year-on-year. Specifically, spending of Filipino tourists abroad contracted 73.2% annually, data showed.

In turn, figures showed internal tourism expenditure, which combines inbound and domestic tourism spending, shrank 81.6% annually in 2020.

The tourism meltdown means thousands of jobs lost. State statisticians reported that the industry employed 4.68 million people in the country, down 18.1% year-on-year. This shrank the sector’s share to total employment to 11.9% from 13.6% in the preceding year.

That said, Leonardo Lanzona, a labor economist at Ateneo de Manila University, believes the government should invest in a social protection program for displaced tourism workers. “Tourism remains vulnerable right now,” Lanzona said in a text message.

It remains unclear whether the Duterte government would stick with its 10-million target for foreign arrivals by 2022, which by now has become ambitiously high. The tourism department is yet to release new targets for 2021, but what is clear for now is that focus had been diverted to supporting local tourism now that Filipinos are permitted to travel to some tourist destinations so long as health protocols are followed.

"As of the moment, local tourism may be picking up because of the easing of restrictions in various parts of the country, particularly, the NCR+8 bubble, and international activity may still have to wait,” Ruben Carlo Asuncion, chief economist at UnionBank of the Philippines, said.

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MANILA, Philippines— The Department of Tourism (DOT) on Wednesday stressed that travel for leisure purposes for all ages from the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus bubble to Boracay and other tourist destinations under modified general community quarantine has been extended until June 30.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat made the clarification amid reports that some tourism stakeholders may not be aware that restrictions in tourist destinations had been relaxed for the elderly and young travelers below 18 and above 65 years old since June 1.

Resolution 121 of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases allows interzonal travel between areas under GCQ and MGCQ for leisure purposes. However, tourists coming from Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal may only undertake point-to-point travel to GCQ and MGCQ areas.

Point-to-point travel means that while pit stops or stopovers are allowed for eating and personal necessities, no side trips shall be made to other tourism destinations

The DOT also said that leisure travels are allowed subject to RT-PCR testing before travel for those below 18 and above 65 and other restrictions imposed by the DOT and the local government unit of the destination.

Last Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that the NCR Plus would remain under general GCQ with varying degrees of restrictions.

Puyat said the extension of the relaxed restrictions for leisure travels would help boost domestic tourism.

“This extended liberal movement of people will allow the DOT and local government units to revive the jobs of displaced tourism workers,” Puyat said.

Since the eased travel restrictions, tourist arrivals in Boracay grew.

Data from the Malay, Aklan Municipal Tourism Office showed that a total of 9,066 tourists arrived in Boracay through Caticlan from June 1 to 13. Of these, 890 are travelers aged 0 to 12 years old while 178 are aged 60 and above.

On the other hand, 64% or 5,772 Boracay visitors came from the NCR, followed by visitors from Region 4A (CALABARZON), with Rizal having 681 visitors, Cavite with 639, and Laguna with 462, respectively.

It only recorded 1,777 tourist arrivals last month.

The DOT said accredited staycation hotels in all GCQ areas are still allowed to accommodate leisure guests at up to 100% of their capacity.

However, other DOT-accredited establishments in GCQ areas may operate at 30% capacity for guests coming from the same household and subject to the strict monitoring of the LGU.

Aside from Boracay, the DOT said outdoor tourist attractions in GCQ areas, including NCR and Bulacan, may operate at 50% capacity, while those in Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal may operate at 30% capacity with strict adherence to minimum public health and safety guidelines until June 30.

It added that indoor tourist attractions such as museums and historical sites will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity in GCQ areas, at 30% in the NCR and Bulacan. They are not allowed in Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal.

Rip-offs, Frustration
Greet Balikbayans

At the Airport

Many balikbayans, having received full immunization against COVID-19 and more confident to visit their homeland to see family and friends after more than a year of travel restrictions, are starting to seek refunds on previously bought plane tickets.

Their eagerness apparently is turning to irritation the moment their plane touches down on Philippine soil. According to one balikbayan, upon arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from the US, they were made to wait inside the airplane for a doctor and his staff to check everyone’s temperature and vaccination records.

This would not have been a big problem if the plane carried just a few passengers. But if there are more than 300 onboard, going through each and every passenger inside the plane is guaranteed to add another hour of waiting to an already long trans-Atlantic flight.

Topping their frustration was having to be told that they had to undergo a 10-day quarantine because only vaccinations received in the Philippines allow them a shorter seven-day quarantine period.

With the protestations coming from Filipinos and balikbayans, the poor doctor and his staff had to contend with the unbridled anger. While admitting to understanding the righteousness of the complaints, the doctor insisted his hands were tied and he had to follow rules.

The passengers argued that the government had already reduced quarantine requirements for inbound travellers to seven days max starting June 16, which was a few days away from when the passengers arrived. In the end, the doctor gave two email addresses to which the complainants could send their grievances and appeals for a shorter quarantine period.

High prices

The travesty does not end with the quarantine issue. Apparently, they had to pay for a swab test (to be conducted on the sixth day of their quarantine) to a company that turned out to be only a contractor or agent for an actual laboratory facility.

The swab test cost was P4,000. A discount for senior citizens brings it down to P3,200. Those who can afford may take this amount lightly, but the moral issue is about some parties raking it in at the expense of returning Filipinos and balikbayans.

Clearly, the amount could have been lower given current rates today, which have significantly dropped compared to several months ago. Perhaps the extraordinary amount is for the service fee of the company interceding for the lab.

There was another long queue for all the 300-plus passengers to pre-pay their swab tests. Those who were first in line did not wait long, but those at the end easily lost another hour before their payment could be processed and were cleared to proceed to their assigned quarantine hotels.

The rip-off continued, according to the passenger, when booking for transfers to their quarantine hotels. The cheapest sedan was quoted at P2,200, and a van at P3,500 by another “accredited” airport transportation company.

To balikbayans who travel to the Philippines regularly, the “new normal” transportation cost simply represent another scheme hatched by some sleazy airport officials to earn “commission” from the higher fees. It just leaves a bad taste for our returning countrymen who feel they are being fleeced of their precious money.

Diverted flights

A breakdown in communication lines and chain of command also developed in a frustrating situation for some direct international flights to Cebu when the Cebu governor allowed swabbing upon arrival and quarantines for only two days if results turned out negative.

Apparently, this shortened quarantine period was not in accordance with the set protocols of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases. In a battle of wills, since the governor did not want to conform, the direct flights to Cebu were diverted to Manila.

One can imagine the inconveniences created for passengers. According to my informant, the mid-air diversions happened more than once, eventually forcing the Cebu governor to conform to the arrival protocols dictated by the IATF.

The chaotic situation was finally firmly resolved after no less than the President had to step in to say that Cebu must follow the travel protocols that the IATF dictated.

Some of the passengers who were able to enter with just two days of quarantine were smiling ear to ear.

Returning to near normal

Of course, such stories can just be viewed as hiccups in a situation where airline travel is trying to return to near normal. The pandemic is still a global health issue, and the reported emergence of new variants that are transmissible even in vaccinated persons are being closely monitored.

For a country whose main weapon in containing rising infections are lockdown orders, even at the expense of the livelihood of millions of Filipinos, it will take time for inbound travellers, even those fully immunized, to expect that strict quarantine measures will ease soon.

Our balikbayans are well aware of the travel protocol differences among countries, and try their best to conform to rules. It is in the unwritten procedures – having their temperature and vaccination cards examined inside the plane, excessively priced vehicle transfer rates – that throw them off.

Our airport officials should come up with better answers that take into account the incoming passengers’ convenience while complying with the general directives set by the IATF. This includes setting up reasonable prices for the mandatory swabs and other charges.

As one passenger who felt victimized vented out: “They (airport officials) think we are stupid, but they are stupid to think that way.” Robbery, indeed, happening in broad daylight.

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MANILA, Philippines — Tourism’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) last year fell to below P1 trillion, its lowest in more than a decade, as expenditures on travel declined by double digits due to border restrictions put in place by the government.

In a report, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said gross value added (GVA) in tourism sank by more than 61 percent to P973.31 billion in 2020 from P2.51 trillion in 2019.

 

As such, tourism’s share plunged to 5.2 percent of GDP, from 12.8 percent, in a display of how grave the quarantine restrictions gripped the movement of people.

Tourism revenue generated last year was the lowest in 11 years since the P868.23 million recorded in 2009. GVA grew from P1.04 trillion in 2010 to an all-time high of P3.28 trillion in 2019.

Broken down, inbound tourism expenditure last year shrank by roughly 78 percent to P132.58 billion, from P600.07 billion. On the other hand, cash spent by domestic travelers also dropped by over 82 percent to P556.89 billion from P3.14 trillion.

Likewise, the PSA reported that outbound tourism expenditure fell by more than 73 percent to P91.77 billion from P340.15 billion.

Inbound tourism expenditure, or the spending made by foreign guests and Filipinos permanently living overseas, accounted for 2.9 percent of 2020’s total expenditures.

The travel sector also endured an over 18 percent decline in the number of its workers to 4.68 million, from 5.72 million, as tourism’s share in the country’s labor force slipped to 11.9 percent from 13.6 percent based on PSA data.

Since March last year, the government has enforced a blanket ban against foreign nationals on leisure trips to contain the spread of the virus as well as new variants. In the absence of foreigners, tourism enterprises rely on domestic visitors to generate revenue.

However, government agencies, headed by the Department of Tourism, continue to look for ways to safely reopen the borders for international travel. A small working group is assessing a proposal by the DOT to set up green lanes at airports to facilitate the entry of vaccinated passengers.

In coordination with the International Air Transport Association, the green lane seeks to remove the requirement of quarantine for vaccinated travelers.

Last year, arrivals in the country declined by over 82 percent to 1.48 million from 8.26 million in 2019.

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BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Travel requirements for visitors from Metro Manila and nearby provinces remain even as this city has reopened to essential travelers and tourists.

Mayor Benjamin Magalong said essential travelers are still required to register online through hdf.baguio.gov.ph and tourists through visita.baguio.gov.ph and should undergo reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) or antigen testing.

Antigen testing is conducted at the Baguio Convention Center triage, saliva test in Burnham Park on Tuesdays for those with advance online registration, and RT-PCR swab testing at the Baguio General Hospital. Travelers pay for the tests.

Staycation is allowed only in establishments accredited by the Department of Tourism.

Magalong said contact tracing interoperability and compliance with minimum health standards still apply.

This city remains under general community quarantine until the end of the month.

City officials said tourist arrivals started to pick up this month with the easing of travel restrictions in Metro Manila and nearby areas.

Rainbow Travel Inc

339 West 2nd Ave

Vancouver, B.C.

V5Y 0B4

Tel:                604-872-2627

Toll Free:     1-877-922-4269

Fax:               604-872-2670

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