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Ensuring a resilient, sustainable tourism sector

The author at the Masungi Georeserve

(Editor’s note: Bernadette Romulo-Puyat leaves the Department of Tourism with an impeccable record and a long list of stellar achievements despite the spate of unprecedented challenges she faced during her term. We asked the outgoing Tourism Secretary, who was appointed earlier this month as a deputy governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), to share with Inquirer the biggest milestones and accomplishments of the agency during her term, what’s next for the Philippine tourism, and her wishlist for the incoming administration and next DOT leaders)

When I was appointed as the Secretary of Tourism back in May 2018, I advocated for creating a culture of sustainable tourism within the industry.

Coming from the rehabilitation of Boracay, we launched a refreshed campaign of the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” brand focusing on sustainability, diversity and patronizing our local culture and heritage.

Tourism products

This manifested in our projects and programs, which strengthened the development of our 10 tourism products—Sun and Beach, Nature and Adventure, Cultural Heritage, Farm and Culinary, MICE, Leisure and Entertainment, Cruise, Dive, Health and Wellness, and Education—and put a spotlight on all 16 regions of the Philippines, especially the lesser-known destinations.

With my experience from the agricultural sector, we found it necessary to add Farm Tourism as the 10th tourism product to share the benefits of tourism to our farmers, providing them opportunities for additional income.

The author has long advocated for sustainability in tourism.

In support to this, the DOT launched Kain Na!, its flagship farm and food tourism program to generate awareness and interest in the culinary aspect of our country’s regional destinations by featuring iconic dishes, local produce and interesting foodie experiences.

Convergence programs

The DOT believes that the enhancement of tourism infrastructure is a major stimulus in accelerating recovery. We engaged in convergence programs with the Department of Public Works and Highways for Tourism Roads Infrastructure (TRIP), to ensure better access and shorter travel time to tourist destinations.

Despite the pandemic, the author, pictured here at the Ili-Likha Artist Village in Baguio City, continues to visit and check on the country’s tourism destinations.

The DOT also worked with the Department of Transportation and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines for the Institutionalized Leveraging Infrastructure Program for Airport Development (ILIPAD), which was aimed at providing a better experience for our tourists while in our airports.

Recovery plan

The pandemic was something that none of us could have ever imagined, as its effects trickled down to the entire tourism value chain and manifested in the loss of jobs and livelihoods. In response to the crisis, the DOT had the Tourism Response and Recovery Plan (TRRP).

The DOT led initiatives for the vaccination of 98 percent of our tourism workers, and established health and safety standards for tourist destinations, accommodation establishments, enterprises and tour operators to prepare for the eventual resumption of tourism under the new normal.

When the Philippines opened its borders to international leisure travel in February 10 this year, we were beyond prepared to welcome back foreign tourists, and we are happy to note that our efforts to boost traveler confidence paid off.

Since we reopened, the number of tourist arrivals in the country have already exceeded our expectations, with more than half a million (510,844 as of May 24) entries recorded. Our key destinations such as Boracay and Baguio have already reached their pre-pandemic numbers, indicating a robust domestic tourism economy.

At El Nido, Palawan

All throughout this crisis, the DOT has consistently stated that the goal is not just to get back to normal, but to pave the way for a better normal, rebuilding the nation’s tourism industry in a way that will make it resilient, more sustainable and more inclusive.

Wishlist

We hope that the next administration will continue promoting the principles of sustainability and resilience in the industry. We learned a lot from the most pressing instances these past four years, such as the rehabilitation of Boracay, typhoons and the pandemic. We fervently hope that the next administration will take our learnings to heart in order to ensure that the industry sustains its growth momentum.

We will be turning over the Revised National Tourism Development Plan (RNTDP) that aims to complement the programs to recover jobs and livelihood; deepen the roots for resilient, sustainable and inclusive recovery; and strengthen the foundations for stronger local tourism functions under DOT’s leadership and guidance.

We hope that the next administration can continue operating in utmost accountability and transparency. We have received an “unqualified opinion” from the Commission on Audit (COA), the highest rating that indicates that all our financial statements are reported fairly and correctly, for two straight years.

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The article was originally published in Inquirer.NET and written by Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.