Tourism assistant secretary Robby Alabado bares the draft of the “tourism response and recovery plan” to Puerto Princesa City stakeholders.

The city government has resumed some of its key projects that had been suspended during the lockdown period, hoping that their completion will also help spur the tourism sector once Puerto Princesa recovers from the pandemic.

Speaking in an online conference of the city tourism stakeholders, Mayor Lucilo Bayron said he anticipates tourism to face a slow recovery.

“The tourism industry is not foreseen to recover in the next two to three years,” Bayron said.

He added, however, that they have resumed work on tourism-related infrastructure programs to prepare for its eventual recovery.

Bayron said among the projects that have been resumed are the construction of the Balayong Park, the street lighting projects, the integrated fish port, construction of Sabang wharf, planning of a 5,000-seater convention center, and other infrastructure projects that have already resumed since the onset of a more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ) on May 1.

He added that they plan to make an international event out of the Subaraw Festival.

“For 2021 and beyond, we will start to sponsor events and pursue sports tourism,” Bayron said.

Roberto P. Alabado III, assistant secretary of the Department of Tourism (DOT), bared the department’s initial plans for the sector, stating that it needs to “shift strategies” after the pandemic.

“Tourism is the hardest hit but the last to recover. For the past 16 years, we have been steadily growing. But on April [2020] alone, we had zero,” Alabado said.

From January to April 2020, international tourist arrivals decreased by around 55 percent, compared to the same period last year, which translates to more than P100 billion opportunity losses for the economy.

The disruption of the “tourism supply chain” subsequently affected the need for working capital, tax payment, repayment of loans, and the health and safety of the workers, according to Alabado.

“Our new marketing strategy is that the Philippines is a safe destination,” Alabado added.

Alabado said among the policy measures they have considered in the recovery plan for tourism are tax breaks for tourism-related enterprises and the waiving of registration fees.

He said the tourism department also intends to enhance the marketing and product development by “restoring industry’s confidence”.

“We showed the world how Filipinos take care of our tourists. Kahit mahirap tayong bansa, binigay natin sa kanilang mga citizens [ang lahat na tulong] — sa ating mga turista,” Alabado said.

John Avila, senior economic growth specialist of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Philippines, said they are committed on helping the local government even until during the recovery as it continuously maintained the ties between the private and government sectors.

“Recovery of local tourism is crucial. We’re hoping shorter than two to three years,” Avila said.

Dr. Randy Alampay, professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) Asian Institute of Tourism (AIT), explained the various tourism trends that may emerge after the COVID-19 crisis.

Alampay explained that global tourism income losses are at nearly USD450 billion, and international tourism is not going to happen anytime soon. However, opportunities that may emerge from the crisis are the rise in domestic tourism, as well as visiting friends and relatives (VFR) as travel motivations.

“We’re all stressed and there’s a need to reconnect which would drive local tourism,” Alampay said.

Local travelers are also foreseen to veer away from “Instagram” traveling to a preferred “sharing the time” with friends and relatives.

“Their preferences will be more basic. For them, the “experience” is about sharing the time with their friends and relatives in the main rest and relaxation sites of destination,” Alampay added.

The online session was hosted by USAID in partnership with the DOT, Puerto Princesa City LGU, and Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF).  (With reports from Patricia Laririt)