Lawmakers laud tourism initiatives, bat for higher 2024 budget for Department of Tourism

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QUEZON CITY – The Department of Tourism (DOT) on Tuesday (Aug. 15) expressed its gratitude to the House of Representatives (HoR) Appropriations Committee, after members manifested support to its plans and programs, and the proposed reconsideration and increase in the budget of the Department and its attached agencies for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024.  

This, following the presentation of Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco at the Budget Hearing carried out by the HoR Committee on Appropriations, where the DOT’s performance and accomplishments in the past year were laid out, as well as its budget and necessary resources enclosed in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for next year, which consist of an allocation of Php 2.99 billion, or an amount 20 percent lower than its Php 3.7 billion budget for the current year.  

According to Secretary Frasco, as the Department embarks on the objectives and strategies towards the transformation of the Philippines into a tourism powerhouse in Asia as envisioned by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., and for the country to finally be shoulder to shoulder with its ASEAN neighbors as far as tourism growth is concerned, adequate funding support is needed for attainment of such goals.  

“I would like to preface my answer by stating the goal for the Department of Tourism for 2024, which is at 7.7 million international tourists at its baseline and, therefore, we are going to aggressively pursue that number, if not in excess of that number, in our earnest desire to return to pre-pandemic levels sooner than what is predicted,” Secretary Frasco said.  

“Arming the Department of Tourism with the additional budget would help us greatly in the flagship programs that have been identified by the Marcos administration that seeks not only to benefit our key destinations, but our emerging destinations as well,” the DOT chief enthused.  

Tourism, a crucial driver of Philippine economy: DOT  

Making the DOT’s case before the House Committee of Appropriations, Secretary Frasco reported on the promising recovery rate of the Philippine tourism industry under the Marcos administration.  

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Among the most notable milestones presented by Secretary Frasco is the country’s international tourist arrivals from January to July 2023 which was recorded at 3.427 million, this registers a 66.33 percent recovery rate compared to the same period in 2019, and surpasses the 2022 average growth rate of 54 percent in Asia Pacific, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) World Tourism Barometer May 2023. The number comprises 71 percent of the DOTs baseline target for 2023, which is 4.8 million foreign visitor arrivals.  

Meanwhile, the DOT also recorded PhP 368 billion in revenue from international visitors from January 1 to July 30, 2023.  

While the DOT was able to successfully launch its flagship programs through budget augmentation from its attached agencies including the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) and Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), Secretary Frasco noted that with “The Department of Tourism being the agency chiefly mandated for the development and promotion of the entirety of the tourism industry, it is in dire need of a budget that is equitable to its contribution to the coffers of the national economy.”  

Lawmakers throw support behind higher budget for DOT, Love the Philippines  

Delivering her opening remarks at the briefing on behalf of Committee on Appropriations Chairperson Elizaldy Co, Marikina City 2nd District Stella Luz Quimbo–who sits as the Committee Vice Chairperson–stressed on the importance of the country’s tourism industry, noting that it is “is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic and vibrant sectors of the modern world that has the power to stimulate and propel economic growth, cultural exchange and social development within a nation.”  

During the interpellation, several lawmakers have pointed out the need for a higher tourism budget in order to support the DOT in its efforts to develop tourism and sustain industry milestones gained so far under the Marcos administration.  

Representative Rufus Rodriguez from the 2nd district of Cagayan de Oro City underscored tourism as an indispensable element of the national economy and an industry of national interest and importance”, moving to provide a bigger budget for the Department to finance roads leading to tourism destinations across the country. That is why I am here today, to support the DOT budget, and to support Secretary Frasco. We are very proud of you, you are a very competent, diligent, and hardworking Secretary,” Rep. Rufus added.  

Bohol 1st district Representative Edgar Chatto, who co-authored the said law, prefaced his interpellation by commending Secretary Frasco.  

“Congratulations Secretary Frasco, you have been really leading the DOT in a way that has also brought all the laurels in the country in terms of our recovery efforts, and we are so happy with that. It cascades down to the local government levels, where our tourism industry is also picking up. We are feeling that in the Province of Bohol, through the increase in international arrivals, with international flights as well, and so on. Thank you once again,” Rep. Chatto said.   

Isabela 6th district Representative Faustino “Inno” Dy, a staunch supporter of the DOT who defended the Departments budget for FY 2023 last year, also expressed admiration for Secretary Frasco’s leadership.  

“Since last year, your direction is to bring out the beauty of our destinations. I also commend your decision to reinvigorate the tourism industry, through a new slogan; Love The Philippines, it is simple and a powerful phrase and it encapsulates the beauty of our country,” Rep. Dy enthused.  

Albay 1st district Representative Edcel Lagman also manifested his support to the DOT by alluding to the enhanced tourism campaign, Love the Philippines.  

“With the innumerable and pristine tourist destinations and attractions of the Philippines, I’m certain that the Filipino and foreign tourists will Love the Philippines. We cannot go wrong with love,” Rep. Lagman said, adding that “with the hope that at the proper time, with the approval of the Majority, we can increase the budget of the DOT, the Department of Tourism, if not to equal this current level, to exceed it, in the commission of its performance.”    

Meanwhile, Zamboanga Sibugay 1st district Representative Wilter Palma also commended Secretary Frasco’s leadership, while offering suggestions to emulate successful tourism projects, such as the Suroy Suroy Sugbo program of Cebu Province, as well as address in growing the country’s domestic tourism.  

“Keep up the good work Madam Secretary, and I hope you can copy the good practices of the good Governor of Cebu, the Suroy Suroy Sugbo, and replicate it here in the entire tourism sector,” Rep. Palma said.   

According to Secretary Frasco, shared that the Department had already benchmarked Suroy Suroy in launching the flagship Philippine Experience Program which will be launched across the country’s regions. The first launch was done successfully in the Davao Regions in late June, with the DOT having invited members of embassies with existing travel advisories against the Philippines to, according to Secretary Frasco, “allow these countries’ representatives to see for their own eyes the real peace and security situation of Mindanao that is ready and its viable for international tourism.”  

Other lawmakers including Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Bernadette Herrera shared the same sentiments with Rep. Lagman over the decrease in the DOT’s budget for FY 2024.  

“I’m concerned with the decrease of the budget of the Department of Tourism, especially since as mentioned, 3.4 million visitors while of course it’s higher than last year, but still far away from our 2019 and pre-pandemic levels of 8.6 million tourists. So, from 3.85 billion US dollars, 9 billion US dollars pa ang hahabulin natin if we want to go to the pre-pandemic levels. So, decreasing it is really unwarranted,” Rep. Herrera said.  

Underscoring the necessity of developing roads leading to tourist destinations, Rep. Jose Bong” Teves, Jr.  also manifested his support to the DOT and Secretary Frasco, saying Kung kakailangin nyo pa ang dagdag na budget, susuporta po kami.”  

Commending Secretary Frasco and officials present at the budget hearing including TPB COO Marga Nograles, Rep. Quimbo acknowledged the “huge sacrifice” that comes with the responsibilities at the Department.  

“I commend you for a job well done and when I look at Secretary Christina (Garcia Frasco), of course, my very good friend, (TPB) COO Marga (Nograles), you’re mothers of very young children. So, in addition to the very hard work, I’m sure this comes with huge personal sacrifices. So, congratulations, and thank you very much for all the things that you do for the country,” enthused Rep. Quimbo.  

Full budget utilization by year end  

As she expressed the DOT’s gratitude for the lawmakers’ outpouring of support and backing for a higher tourism budget for FY 2024, Secretary Frasco also took note of their suggestions and concerns, including on the utilization rate of the Department for the current year.  

The DOT chief likewise assured that stringent measures have been put in place toward the full utilization of its 2023 budget by the end of the year, as part of the Department’s commitment to uphold transparency in its undertakings. Recently, it received from the Commission on Audit (CoA) an Unmodified Opinion on the fairness of the presentation of the Financial Statements as of December 31, 2022.  

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