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Protecting the Tourism Industry

Puerto Princesa City Mayor Lucilo Bayron | April 8, 2020

 

The challenge is to offset the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the tourism industry and to mitigate the spread of the virus in Puerto Princesa City.  Tourism is the major economic driver of the city. It has generated more than PhP5.45 billion worth of revenues in 2019, with 1.2 million tourist arrivals and more than 2,100 MICE events. However, these figures dropped by 80 percent in the first quarter of 2020.

 

We need to act fast and we need to be decisive to safeguard the city against COVID-19. With this in mind, my immediate concern is to support the initiative of the national government.

 

I called all sectors to work together and consider their recommendations on how to address this situation, especially calling for support from our business and tourism communities. With the increase of COVID-19 PUI (person under investigation) cases in Manila, as early as March 6, 2020, I called for an emergency council meeting with representatives from the key sectors of health, disaster, planning, social welfare, personnel in uniforms (Coastguard, PNP and Army), financial institutions, and key utilities in the city looking into capacity and continuity of operations, mobility, and supply.  We set-up the emergency operations center at the City Coliseum. I coordinated with the business sector, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure the steady supply of food and commodities to alleviate panic buying. 

 

I made the most serious decision to cancel all commercial transportation (air, sea, and land) to and from Puerto Princesa City starting March 15, 2020 following the Luzon-wide directive to minimize the cases of COVID-19 PUIs and PUMs (person under monitoring) in the city. The city was placed under enhanced community quarantine in March 17, 2020, with a curfew from 6PM to 5AM.

 

About 1,375 domestic and international tourists flocked the city prior to the March 15 cancellation of flights. We conducted an inventory of tourists to secure their safety and plan what support and assistance can be provided. We coordinated with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, the Provincial Government, and airline companies to provide additional flights for stranded tourists. Cebu Pacific and AirSwift responded to this call and ferried more than 1,000 stranded tourists in the first two weeks of community quarantine.  At the moment, we have 141 domestic tourists and 215 foreign tourists for special flight arrangements.          

 

We coordinated with embassies (British, Austrian, and Australian), provided food to stranded tourists while still at the airport, and asked establishments to provide accommodation and give up to 80 percent discount to stranded tourists. We arranged for special assistance to foreign elderly tourists for their special needs such as medicines, food, and banking needs. 

 

For those who were displaced and lost their jobs, we released PhP94 million worth of emergency financial assistance to support not only the displaced tourism workers and community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) associations but also low income and informal earners and households. We also facilitated the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) TUPAD emergency employment assistance registration of 1,350 individuals and 800 employers for the DOLE CAMP registration.

 

While on enhance community quarantine, we are hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  PUIs and PUMs have slowly gone down—from 58 to 27 PUIs and from 2,190 to a mere 57 PUMs (as of April 3, 2020). Still we cannot be complacent, we have to persevere and continue to anticipate the nature of this pandemic. 

I commend the tourism and business sectors for supporting the efforts of the city government and for providing cash or in-kind assistance to stranded tourists and the informal sectors such as the CBSTs, boat men, tour guides and tricycle drivers. I am also thankful to the Puerto Princesa City Tourism Council for providing moral support to other tourism players and encouraging them to take part and do volunteer work. 

In collaboration with USAID/SURGE, I have directed our City Tourism Officer Aileen Amurao to solicit insights from various tourism groups and develop a package of assistance to help  Puerto Princesa City regain its place as one of the country’s major tourism destination.  

What I came to realize from this crisis is that we have to strengthen our agriculture and fishery sectors and we have to increase our effort in promoting investments in health and light manufacturing. We need to strengthen the tourism industry and complement it with state-of-the-art health facilities and trained personnel.

 

We need to be prepared, confident, and build back a better and sustainable future for Palawenos.