MANILA — The Philippines only recorded 1,323,956 foreign tourist arrivals in 2020, or a decline of 83.97 percent from the previous year, as the country closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic through much of last year, the Department of Tourism said Tuesday.
In a press briefing, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat noted that total receipts from inbound tourism was estimated at only P81.40 billion from January to December last year, plunging by 83.12 percent compared to 2019 receipts, when the country logged 8,260,913 arrivals.
Because of this, Puyat said the country would boost local tourism in a bid to restart the travel industry, as COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.
She also explained that it would still be up to local government units to reopen tourism destinations, but streamlined travel protocols would be needed to encourage local tourists.
“Together with the Tourism Promotions Board, we will spearhead product diversification and enhancement activities with the regions and LGUs,” she said.
“Recalibration of targets and refocusing to domestic tourism in the short term will be carried out.”
The threat of the mutated COVID-19 variant, meanwhile, will require “strengthened” entry protocols, which includes “continued development” of health and safety protocols by operating tourism enterprises.
The country has banned foreign travelers from over 30 countries to prevent the spread of the new variant here.
“Activities will be prioritized to ensure the well-being of visitors and workers as well as help improve the readiness of destinations to reopen for business,” the tourism chief said.
“Hopefully, with the improvement of community quarantine levels, efforts will be intensified to help revive tourism activities and restore job and livelihood opportunities,” she added.
The government has sought restarting the tourism sector as COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed, forcing the cancellation of non-essential movements such as leisure trips, and halting public transport, among others.
The agency had said its survey showed that 60 percent of Filipinos are willing to travel around the country despite the absence of a vaccine.
It also earlier supported the creation of a "COVID-19 passport" which was suggested by Cebu Pacific Air president Lance Gokongwei.
Currently, several areas in the Philippines have already reopened to domestic tourists, including Boracay, El Nido, Baguio, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Lapu-Lapu City, Palawan and Siargao.
DOT said it's already working on opening more tourist sites this year.