THE Department of Tourism (DOT) is projecting foreign visitor arrivals of at least 3.23 million by 2023, still below the 8.26-million historic high in 2019.
This was revealed by Tourism Secretary-designate Christina Garcia Frasco at Wednesday’s hearing for the DOT budget at the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations. “Under present conditions, we will not be able to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2025,” she said.
Under a medium scenario, foreign arrivals could hit 4.8 million by 2023, and on the upside or most optimistic scenario, as many as 6.48 million tourists.
The DOT is seeking a budget of P3.58 billion next year, although a number of legislators support an increase to help revive the tourism sector and give back jobs to workers, who lost them due to the pandemic travel restrictions.
Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, for one, said, “I fully support an increase in DOT’s budget and increase the Tieza subsidy so that we could build more infrastructure, and make us more competitive with our Asean neighbors, and create livelihood opportunities.”
Under the DOT’s proposed budget, some P1.3 billion will be allocated for the branding campaign of the country. This is a substantial increase from the P309 million allocated this year. (See, “Not fun! DOT branding campaign budget cut to P309M,” in the BusinessMirrorFeb 1, 2022.)
Asked whether DOT will be changing its current slogan, the still-popular “It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” Garcia Frasco said the agency will “enhance it to reflect the current conditions [coming from the pandemic]” and strengthen the so-called Filipino brand that will emphasize the culture and heritage of the country.
She also assured Lanao del Norte, 1st District Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo that the Mindanao region will receive some 30 percent of the DOT’s proposed budget next year, for the support of tourism development projects.
The DOT also sought a Tier-2 funding to create an Infrastructure Development Fund and a Tourism Contingency Fund, the latter to be tapped to help tourism destinations quickly rebuild in the aftermath of a natural disaster or calamity.
Asked by Gabriela Women’s Party-List Rep. Arlene Brosas how much of DOT’s budget will aid tourism workers who have lost their jobs, Garcia Frasco said it was “not DOT’s mandate” to pay out subsidies or provide ayuda and the like. As such, it has partnered with other government agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Labor and Employment. In the National Capital Region alone, more than 520,000 displaced workers in the tourism sector received cash aid amounting to P3.1 billion last year, under a joint program between the DOT and DOLE with funds coming from the Bayanihan 2 Act.
Of the total requested budget of P3.58 billion, P3.3 billion is allocated for the Office of the Secretary, P63 million to the Intramuros Administration, P204.62 million to the National Parks Development Committee, and P9.53 million to the Philippine Sports Scuba Diving Commission.
The agency also responded to questions on its use of funds, as pointed out by the Commission on Audit, but its officials assured lawmakers they had already implemented some 97 percent of the latter’s recommendations.