MANILA, Philippines — International travel may still be unavailable within the year as the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat bared.
Puyat first brought up the possibility earlier this week during a virtual hearing of the House Committee on Tourism on the effect of the coronavirus pandemic to the tourism sector.
“Travel will not revert to normal right away. Even if the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) has been lifted, some LGUs will not yet be open to visitors from other places and international travel might not yet happen within the year pending the travel restrictions of other nations,” Puyat said.
“At this point in time, traveling is but a dream. We understand the urge to visit your favorite places after getting cooped-up in one’s home for more than a month. But one can only imagine being there at this point,” she added.
Puyat said that the tourism sector is “probably the hardest-hit economic sector in this crisis.”
The tourism secretary said there is an estimated decrease of 40.2 percent in the number of foreign arrivals in the Philippines from January to March this year, as compared to figures from the same period in 2019.
“We also estimate revenue from foreign arrivals from the period January to March of 2020 to have reached P79.8 billion, or a decrease of -40.62 percent compared to P134.3 billion from January to March of 2019,” Puyat said.
Mirroring other countries
In an interview with INQUIRER.net on Thursday, Puyat said it is not only the Philippines that is taking a hit in the coronavirus pandemic.
“Aviation experts and practitioners worldwide have expressed in various fora that recovery in aviation may take longer. Travel may not thrive until the pandemic is abated worldwide and international borders are reopened,” Puyat said.
“The same scenario is mirrored by the Philippines and our local airlines echo this forecast for international travel,” she added.
In terms of domestic travel, Puyat said that the DOT has rolled out a digital campaign to remind “our markets to keep safe while showing our beautiful sites and attractions nationwide for them to ‘wake up’ in once the COVID-19 pandemic has been resolved.”
“We are also in touch with our LGU and private sector partners to prepare and put health and safety controls in place in all sites and attractions and services to ensure our quick recovery and see tourism in the pink of health again,” Puyat said.
Puyat likewise said that tourism is gearing up for the “new normal” in the tourism sector.
This includes temperature checks of guests in hotels when checking in, wearing of personal protective equipment for tourism frontliners, reducing the capacity of tourist vehicles, providing sanitation kits to guests, and regular disinfection and sanitation of public areas, among others.
The tourism department is also recommending that buffets be temporarily discontinued.
“The DOT has drafted the Health and Safety Guidelines for Accommodations and this is now being reviewed by our industry partners for their comments and inputs,” Puyat said.
“We will soon issue proposed standards for restaurants and tourist transport tour operators for review by our stakeholders,” she added.
As of April 30, there are 8,488 COVID-19 cases in the country, with the death toll at 568.