CEBU, May 26 (PIA) -- As the government shuts down the idea of opening international travel until the end of the year in the absence of a vaccine to fight the COVID-19 virus, it has not ruled out the possibility of opening the domestic tourism industry when the time is ripe.
Regional Director Shalimar Hofer Tamano of the Department of Tourism (DOT) Central Visayas admitted that the beleaguered tourism sector continues to be battered by the severe impact of the health pandemic, as massive losses are reported by tourism stakeholders from hotels, resorts, airlines, and even the tour guides whose livelihood was shattered.
"The faster we address safety issues, the faster our economy can move forward," said Tamano, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic will still be here in the absence of the development of a vaccine.
Tamano said there are two major factors that affect tourism growth from a tourist's perspective.
These are the beauty of the destination and the safety of the destination, of which the latter takes top priority, he said.
"We need to institute the necessary safety procedures and protocols in the travel industry under the new normal if we want to be competitive as a major tourism hub in the region amidst the health pandemic," said Tamano.
Tamano said the DOT continues to monitor external developments, as the closest competitors of Cebu and the Philippines as a whole in the ASEAN region are Phuket and Bangkok in Thailand.
"Before the COVID pandemic, Cebu had 26 international direct flights mostly in the Asia Pacific, like Osaka, Seoul, Vietnam, Bangkok, Dubai and we were going to start direct flights this year to Los Angeles, USA and Qatar," said Tamano.
These are flights that are just waiting to reopen and this is mostly dependent on how the government can address safety protocols in the travel industry when international flights are safe to resume, said the DOT-7 director.
But right now, the DOT will focus on regional tourism while working on developing new products and tours to be competitive, as next in line will be promoting the Asia travel corridor which entails agreement between two countries to open its doors to tourism, said Tamano.
The Asia travel corridor would mean promoting direct flights between two specific destinations as agreed between two countries such as Taipei to Cebu or Seoul to Bohol, said the DOT-7 chief.
Cebu a top tourism hub under the new normal
Either promoting domestic or regional tourism, Tamano expressed optimism that Cebu will remain a top tourism destination due to its accessibility with domestic and international access and favorable peace and order climate among the various tourism attractions it can offer.
Tamano cited three tourism magnets of Cebu by 2021 which can substantiate Cebu's hold as a top tourism destination.
These significant events are the 500th quincentennial celebration of Christianity in the Philippines, Cebu's hosting of the bar exams, and Cebu's strong dominance in the English as Second Language (ESL) study or the education tourism.
"My initial information is that the bar exams will be held in March, with Cebu as one of the expanded venues aside from Manila. Just imagine the sprouting of review centers where bar takers will flock to Cebu and stay for five months for their review. And maybe after the bar, they need to relax and go island-hopping or mountain climbing. This would mean money for those selling food, accommodation, and others," said Tamanao.
He added that "Cebu is the center of the ESL (English as a Second Language) in the Philippines, online and offline. In fact, we have over 50,000 foreign students in Cebu who stay an average of one month. We have not even included the profits the AirBNB is making out of the ESL."
Another strong point for Cebu is the medical and wellness tourism and that the province has several medical schools, said Tamano.
Ideas on tourism growth continue to evolve under the new normal, but as to the exact time when domestic tourism will open continues to be uncertain amid the continuing efforts to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 cases in the country, said Tamano.
"We do not have control of the dates when to open domestic tourism," said Tamano, but one thing he is sure of is that Cebu will remain to be a top tourism destination under the new normal.
Under the proposed recovery measures for the tourism industry, Tamanao said the DOT has requested Congress for a P71-B budget under the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act, where the bulk of the budget will be allotted for "working capital loans for tourism enterprises." (fcr/PIA7)