Tourism industry eyes seat sales, free travel taxes to combat tourists' fear of 2019-nCoV

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 12 2020 12:23 AM

MANILA - Year-long seat sales, hotel discounts and the temporary waiving of travel taxes are being considered to encourage tourists to travel to the Philippines despite the ongoing novel coronavirus scare, tourism industry stakeholders said Tuesday.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) is finding ways to entice tourists to "move around and spend in the middle of the crisis," DOT Undersecretary Arturo Boncato Jr. told a Senate panel.

"We have to activate and stir domestic tourism as an immediate response to the closure of China, HK, Macau, Taiwan," he said.

Last week, the government banned flights to and from mainland China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau to arrest the spread of the virus that originated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan. A travel ban was also imposed on Taiwan, Monday.

The Philippine tourism industry lost about P14.8 billion in February 2020 alone, he said, noting that travelers are hesitant to proceed with bookings due to fears of contacting the virus that has killed nearly 1,000 people worldwide.

AIRLINES ASK FOR HELP

Cebu Pacific, the Philippines' largest carrier, lost some P1.5 billion after several passengers requested for refunds.

Compared to the same period in 2019, flight bookings went down by 87 percent in February as China and Hong Kong account for 30 percent of Cebu Pacific's flight operations, PAterno Mantarin Jr., the carrier's vice president for corporate affairs, said.

"We are now feeling the effect of the coronavirus on the tourism industry... hopefully we can survive this challenging time," he said.

"We welcome all measures to alleviate the burden of the industry, including the granting of incentives," he said.

Travel taxes and other fees shouldered by airlines should be temporarily waived to pull down ticket prices and encourage more travelers to book flights to coronavirus-free destinations, said Desiree Bandal, Philippines AirAsia head for global affairs.

Airlines have to pay additional fees for extended use of runways, which might happen if the airline decides to mount more domestic flights to make up for overseas losses, she said.

Outgoing passengers are charged up to P1,620 for economy and P2,700 for business class. Half of the amount goes to the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), 40 percent to the Commission on Higher Education and 10 percent to the National Commission for Culture and Arts, according to the TIEZA website.

Philippine Airlines, which has canceled 800 monthly flights due to the travel ban on Chinese territories, backed suggestions to waive travel taxes and fees.

"Anything we can do to incentivize travel now is really important," PAL Vice President for Corporate Communications Jose Enrique Perez-De Tagle said.

"Nothing is ascertain. We really just have to do everything we can, be as resilient as we can. Conserve what we can right now," he said.

The government will have to review how the proposal will affect TIEZA collections, Senate Tourism Committee chair Nancy Binay said, noting that regulators expect a drop in travel tax collections due to the decrease in tourist arrivals.

China is the Philippines' second largest tourism market, next to South Korea.

The DOT said it will boost tourism marketing efforts in South Korea, US, Japan and the Southeast Asian region to try to offset losses from China.

DOMESTIC SPENDING

A month-long "nationwide Philippine shopping festival" will be held in the Philippines in March to help spur domestic spending, Boncato said.

Major malls are expected to hold special promotions and sales to attract local and regional shoppers to the Philippines, he said.

The DOT is also considering suggestions that government agencies should be encouraged to hold out of town meetings and seminars to the domestic tourism players, he said.