Senators question DOT's multimillion-peso allocation for tourism marketing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 23) — Senators on Thursday questioned the Department of Tourism's (DOT) move to spend millions of pesos for its branding campaign program in 2021 despite COVID-19 lockdowns.

During a hearing on the DOT's proposed 2022 budget, Senator Imee Marcos flagged the department's ₱1.5-billion budget for Philippine tourism branding, both for local and international marketing.

"Do you think that the huge amount should really be given to international marketing when we're on everyone's red alert infection list?" Marcos said.

"Even for domestic branding, considering that so many different levels of alert, lockdown are still in place, domestic branding at this point seems premature and unnecessary," she added.

Senator Nancy Binay echoed Marcos' statement, saying the budget could have been used to help address the needs of the industry.

However, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the department only received ₱400 million for domestic promotions.

"For 2021... It was reduced to ₱400 million. It was reduced by ₱1 billion," the secretary said.

But Marcos insisted that the country is on lockdown. "Bakit pa kayo nagba-branding? Nakakapagtaka," the senator said.

[Translation: Why are you still investing in branding? It's puzzling.]

Marcos said the budget should have been used instead for the vaccination of tourism workers.

"The problem is we are all looking for funds to finance our vaccines, treatment allocations, and that stunning amount... for branding has been increasingly difficult to defend," Marcos said.

"This is the same issue we encountered last year for which we have not received sufficient explanation," she added.

International summit next March?

Marcos also questioned the decision to hold an international tourism summit in the country early next year.

The DOT announced that the Philippines will host the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit in March 2022 — something the senator said may be "premature." The event was initially scheduled this October but was moved due to pandemic restrictions.

"Hindi ba dapat ma-vaccinate muna, ma-treat muna, ibagsak muna 'yung infection numbers bago tayo sumabak sa mga international summit katulad nito?" Marcos said. "Baka mapahiya pa tayo. Baka magkasakit pa ang Pilipino."

[Translation: Shouldn't we vaccinate people more, treat COVID-19 cases, and lower the infection numbers before we hold an international summit like this? This may end up embarrassing us. Filipinos may just get infected.]

Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones, chief operating officer of the Tourism Promotions Board, said they already came up with protocols to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and these have been approved by the national COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force.

The department is considering conducting a mix of an on-site and virtual event, similar to what Mexico did in April this year, according to Allones.

She said there are usually 1,500 delegates, but the city of Cancún only allowed 500 to 600 to physically attend, which the DOT intends to replicate.

"For planning purposes, the WTCC Council has agreed to shift it to March, so at least by that time, they're anticipating that our target of achieving herd immunity by the end of the year would be something that we've realized already," Allones added.

However, Marcos noted that due to the highly contagious Delta variant, the percentage of vaccinated individuals needed to reach herd immunity is now higher than the year-end target.

"With all due respect, I think herd immunity for the Delta variant has been raised to upwards of 90% which is unlikely by year-end," she said. "So, I think the more prudent measure would be to postpone this further."

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