"Infrastructure offers both a short-term and long-term solution to the problems besetting the tourism sector."
Curiouser and curiouser. This is what's taking place in the country's tourism industry, among those badly affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
On the one hand, there's the effort by Congress to save the devastated tourism sector from the economic downturn caused by the deadly disease.
And on the other, there's the Department of Tourism (DOT) and big players in the industry that have banded together as the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP).
The DOT and the TCP are vehemently opposed to what they perceive as “realignment” by the House of Representatives of P10 billion in infrastructure funds intended for the tourism industry through the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) under the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or the Bayanihan 2 bill.
Congress wants this bill passed as soon as possible as lawmakers are convinced this would immensely benefit the tourism industry and its 5.7 million workers. The fund is actually on top of the P51 billion that the House has allocated under Bayanihan 2 for the sectors badly hit by the pandemic, including the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well as the transport and tourism sectors.
The P51 billion will be coursed through government financing institutions such as the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines and the Philippine Guarantee Corp. in the form of low-interest loans. The P51 billion worth of loans are not intended exclusively for the tourism industry as there are other industries with small players that need to be saved.”¨ As a matter of fact, transport and tourism enterprises are already part of MSMEs, which make up 98 percent of companies and employ an overwhelming majority of Filipino workers.
The TCP, with the full support of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat, apparently wants the P10-billion fund to be given to their members, and not to TIEZA’s tourism infrastructure projects
Secretary Puyat, in concurring with TCP’s call to divert the P10 billion TIEZA infrastructure fund to directly support the tourism industry, said: “We are therefore proposing that of the P10 billion, P9.5 billion be allocated to finance the programs of the DOT to fund critically impacted businesses while P500 million will go to various support programs that would further aid the industry toward the new normal.” The money, she added, should be used for “economic relief to tourism businesses, rather than an infrastructure component which is not the priority at the moment.”
Puyat is chairperson of the TIEZA board. But why is it that she does not want the agency to carry out its mandate of implementing infrastructure projects? She even suggested that if lawmakers would not accede to the TCP group’s request, they should instead give the entire P10 billion to other industries or sectors. Huh?
Does this indicate that all's not well between her and TIEZA officials?
Puyat should listen to what one expert said is the important role of tourism infrastructure in the country's overall economic growth, as it would "lead to the development of other sectors of the economy and improve government's delivery of social services in remote communities. Road improvements and better airports, fast internet connection and well-maintained hospitals and schools in the name of tourism development will help farmers, small entrepreneurs, and improve education and health care in far-flung communities."
Construction projects will immediately create jobs and generate other sources of livelihood for those among the 5.7 million industry workers who have lost their jobs temporarily or permanently—and who are left without incomes to feed their families.
Infrastructure offers both a short-term and long-term solution to the problems besetting the tourism sector amid the global economic slump and mobility restrictions created by the pandemic.
In the short term, infrastructure will provide immediate relief to the industry’s displaced workers in the form of jobs and livelihood opportunities. For every P1 spent on infrastructure, the multiplier effect is around 3.5, which means the P10 billion that TIEZA will spend to improve tourism infrastructure will generate roughly P35 billion for the tourism sector and the economy.
Over the long haul, infrastructure investments in the tourism sector will remove the roadblocks that have impeded its full development and make this sector competitive with its counterparts in the region. As of now, we continue to lag behind Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore in terms of tourist arrivals. This will persist unless we improve poorly maintained provincial airports, roads and other facilities leading to tourism sites.
The jobs to be created from tourism infrastructure projects will provide displaced industry workers the help they need while measures are being put in place to help the tourism industry recover.
Infrastructure would provide the immediate relief that their workers need as well as those employed by small tourism-related businesses until the industry goes back to normal.
In the end, what the P10 billion fund for tourism infrastructure will do is to allow the thousands of small businesses and their workers in the tourism industry who have been left to their own devices amid the economic fallout from COVID-19 to be able to stand on their own two feet and face the future with confidence.