Foreign visitors drop to 84% in 2020 due to travel restrictions
PHILIPPINE tourism stakeholders believe that this year is crucial in rebuilding the country’s tourism industry battered by the global pandemic that hit in 2020.
“I believe 2021 is a major transition year for all of us,” Tourism Promotions Board Chief Operating Officer Anthonette Velasco Allones said at the Kapihan sa New York online dialogue with the Fil Am Press Club of New York on Thursday, Jan. 27.
Revenue lost from international tourism in 2020 was P400 billion, Department of Tourism and TPB officials estimate, with the number of foreign visitors that visited the Philippines falling to almost 84% due to travel restrictions.
DOT Undersecretary Roberto Alabado III said that 8.2 million foreign tourists visited the Philippines in 2019 and because of the restrictions imposed around April, the department noted that there were only about 1.3 million foreign tourists for 2020.
“The drop in arrivals means billions of pesos in tourism revenues brought devastation on the economy,” Alabado said, noting that January 2020 was off to a good start and had an 11% increase in the number of visitors from the same period in 2019.
As restrictions were imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19, the number of tourists dropped.
In a statement, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the impact of COVID-19 that started to be felt in the first quarter of 2020 “was unprecedented and spared no one.”
“With the closure of borders to international tourist traffic and the imposition of quarantine measures, tourism activities ground to a halt affecting various enterprises and displacing workers,” Puyat said.
The tourism sector employed an estimated 5.7 million. Nearly five million workers either lost their jobs or their salaries slashed.
Jojo Clemente, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, said that they have been working with DOT, TPB and the various stakeholders to jumpstart the tourism industry and start rebuilding.
Clemente said they were looking at the balikbayan market across the diaspora to help in this undertaking.
“Kababayans have always wanted to come back home even before the Christmas season last year. We are hoping that with the ongoing vaccination rollout, the situation as far as travel restrictions will get better,” he said. “We have done our best in the private sector for tours to be more flexible owing to the circumstances we’re facing.”
The government slowly eased domestic travel and some destinations have reopened for domestic tourists, including El Nido, Boracay, Bohol, parts of the Ilocos region, Baguio City, parts of Bataan, Batangas and Legazpi City.
According to Alabado, the DOT continues to assess whether the destinations are ready to open and meetings with the various local government units have been ongoing.
“We are trying to safely and gradually reopen but in the end, it is still the LGUs’ call whether they are ready to reopen or not,” he said.
Allones agrees, saying that the industry is willing to adapt to the evolving needs and requirements essential to reopening.
“Safety is the new luxury,” said Allones, who took over TPB’s reins in February 2020. “All our partners like hotels, the transport sector, parks and amusement, they have all endeavored to make sure that our tourists are safe.”
Allones also said that they have pivoted to digital technology and created a Travel Philippines app to ensure that the right and updated information is properly disseminated.
This travel app includes information, basic updates and general protocols, among others and is meant for tourists and stakeholders.
As the government continues to slowly ease domestic travel with the reopening of destinations with health and safety protocols in place, the stakeholders are hopeful that visitor arrivals to the country will make its steady climb to reach pre-pandemic figures.