Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat of DOT. | PNA file photo

The Department of Tourism (DOT) has welcomed recent developments to ensure Southeast Asia’s competitiveness as a single tourism destination and to bolster the recovery of the industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the 24th meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Tourism Ministers hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of the Kingdom of Cambodia through video conference on Thursday, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat expressed her support to the initiatives under the updated Asean’s Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) 2016-2025, a DOT press statement said.

New priority programs identified at the meeting include the adoption of measures and initiatives to support the digitization of Asean tourism, the strengthening of data and information networks, and the conduct of activities to promote connectivity and facilitate travel to and within the region.Also topping the agenda at the Tourism Ministers’ meeting was addressing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The DOT noted that collectively, ASEAN member states suffered a decline of approximately 75.8 percent in tourism receipts, while international arrivals declined by approximately 80.5 percent. Both factors contributed to significant declines in related industries, such as the accommodations, tours, and tourist transport sectors.

“We can only successfully recover from the pandemic if we do so in unity, guided by data and information that lead to effective planning,” Puyat said in her remarks.

She also stressed the importance of pursuing activities centered on community-based tourism developments, thereby enhancing the sustainability and resiliency of the tourism value chain throughout the Asean.

Proposed initiatives under this direction include supporting tourism micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); contributing to programs geared toward reskilling and upskilling tourism workers; and promoting greater inclusivity to generate more jobs for local communities, women, youth, indigenous peoples, minorities, and other vulnerable groups.

“As we implement our plans and programs, it is always prudent to be reminded that the soul of the tourism industry lies with the people we serve and whose lives we aim to uplift through tourism. We must ensure that our workers are covered during these times, especially that we have good policies and mechanisms such as the Mutual Recognition Arrangement for Tourism Professionals (MRA-TP) that help promote recovery and growth,” she added.

At the meeting, she acknowledged the support extended to the region by the various partner international organizations of the Asean.

She stressed that the current emphasis on promoting domestic tourism, supporting tourism product development, and enabling local governments is in accordance with the recommendations for the tourism industry recovery.While the Philippines has pivoted toward domestic tourism to mitigate the pandemic’s impact, she reiterated that the country remains committed to strengthening the partnership among Asean member states.