DOT Secretary Frasco lays out tourism plans and programs for industry recovery; lawmakers bat for higher DOT budget

BATASAN PAMBANSA – Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco on August 31 unveiled the new projects and convergence programs that the Department of Tourism (DOT) intends to carry out during the briefing with the House Committee on Appropriations on the proposed 2023 budget of the agency.

The DOT presented the budget of Php 3.573 billion for FY 2023 covering the Department’s Office of the Secretary (OSec), Intramuros Administration (IA), National Parks Development Committee (NPDC), and the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD)—which is currently transitioning as an attached agency of the Department.

The plans, according to Frasco will include the establishment of tourist service rest areas and​ information counters across the country, the development of a Tourist lifecycle app for tourists a Tourist Assistance Call Center, and the launching of a guest incentive system, among others.

Tourist Service Rest Areas

Sharing her enthusiasm with the House Members, Secretary Frasco gave a preview of the tourist service rest areas that the DOT will ground-break across the country, with at least ten (10) to be placed in strategic locations in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao within this year.

“These areas will serve the travelers in need of accommodation, information, safety, and security. It will also have a pasalubong center inside, displaying our local products, highlighting the Filipino artistry,” Secretary Frasco said of the tourist service rest areas, which the DOT will implement through its Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), and with the support of the local government units (LGUs).

Further, to ensure ease of access for all, Frasco noted that the DOT will also provide persons with disabilities (PWD) facilities in the tourist service rest areas, as well as PWD ramps in national tourism sites.

Tourist Lifecycle App

To ensure internet service availability and to build tourism intelligence that will provide necessary data and knowledge on how to improve the tourist experience, Secretary Frasco disclosed that the DOT shall develop a Tourist Lifecycle App.

Aside from serving as the DOT’s needed data for tourism intelligence, such as tourists’ spending and the length of stay in a destination, the app will have a tourist support feature and an e-commerce platform that will showcase Filipino products.

“We will create a Tourist Lifecycle App which will serve as a ‘Super App’ that aims to connect tourists to accredited tourism establishments for accommodation, food, shopping, rides to accredited transportation, tour operators, and tour guides,” Secretary Frasco explained.

Improvement of land and sea tourist facilities

The DOT’s immediate plans and programs to increase traveler convenience include the introduction of improvements to existing land and sea facilities in the country to make these more efficient, aesthetically appealing, and reflective of the Filipino brand. To achieve this, the DOT shall incorporate distinct Filipino brands in the country’s gateways through design, furniture, and uniform signages that will guide tourists and passengers regarding time and distance to boarding gates, and shall actively push for efficient service and reduction of passenger waiting time. According to Secretary Frasco, the DOT has identified Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2, Davao International Airport, and Cebu City Pier 1 as the pilot projects for the gateway enhancement program which it will implement in collaboration with the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

The Department also plans to put up a Tourist Assistance Call Center and a One-Stop-Shop where tourists can get information and assistance with their travel-related concerns.

“At the moment if you are a tourist in the Philippines, and you encounter problems or scams, for some reason or the other, you simply do not know who to call or where to go. We plan to change that by providing a Tourist Assistance Call Center to serve as a One-Stop-Shop for our tourists, so that they may be able to obtain the assistance that they need so their experience in the Philippines will be memorable and that they feel safe and secure as they travel across the country,” Secretary Frasco said.

Health and Security of Visitors

The Tourism Secretary also said that maintaining peace and order in the country’s tourism destinations is also among the DOT’s top priorities under her leadership.

“We have already coordinated with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to continue the presence of tourist police under the TOPCOP program. The DOT has likewise begun its coordination with the DILG for the continued training of these TOPCOPs, and to request from the DILG that the tour of duty of the members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) shall be lengthened, so that the training will not be wasted as well, and they can have a longer time staying in the key destinations,” she explained.

In addition to securing and enhancing the country’s tourism destinations, Secretary Frasco also bared the DOT’s commitment to ensure the health of tourists through the conduct of due diligence of medical facilities in tourism destinations.

“I personally directed to conduct a due diligence among all key destinations all over the country to identify what are the available health facilities that be improved and/or need to be put up in order to ensure that should our tourists come upon any accident, or any untoward incident, that they would obtain necessary health assistance,” Secretary Frasco said.

BBM Guest Program

Secretary Frasco likewise announced the Bisita Be My (BBM) Guest Program, an exciting guest incentive system for OFWs that the DOT shall launch this year, in collaboration with relevant national government agencies such as the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).

“Through the BBM Guest Program, we will be offering raffle prizes to OFWs that bring guests to the Philippines. We will be providing them with a travel passport that they can use to go across key destinations, get stamps, and claim a prize at the airport; this will also give them a privilege card that would provide them with discounts in the accredited establishments across the country,” Secretary Frasco said.

Employment in Tourism-related industries

On the aspect of addressing the country’s shortage of tourism workforce and the huge demand for tourism employment among workers that got displaced due to the pandemic, the DOT entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) yesterday (August 30) to formalize the two agencies’ partnership to generate employment in the tourism sector and allied industries. Through the MOU, the DOT and DOLE will simultaneously launch the “Trabaho, Turismo, Asenso!” Philippine Tourism Job Fair in Manila, Cebu, and Davao from September 22 to 24. More than 1,500 jobs will be available to jobseekers in the tourism sector.

Other DOT Programs

The DOT, Secretary Frasco shared, is also working on mechanisms that will: improve tourism standards, product accreditation, and review of product audits to be at par with international tourism standards; identify and address gaps; and incorporate emerging standards that cater to the modern traveler’s needs.

The DOT is also working on developing new regional tourism circuits and cultural and heritage hubs to give foreign and local tourists more choices in going around the country. At the same time, the Department is looking into introducing innovative tourism services such as hop on and hop off buses in key tourism destinations and international and local river cruises.

“Our country is rich in history, tradition, and culture and it is high time we pour more of our attention in capitalizing on these strengths of our identity. We will expand ourselves from the traditional portfolio and explore multidimensional tourism. The department is also working on developing new regional tourism circuits that will highlight nature-based tourism, film tourism, food and gastronomy, heritage and culture, farm and agri-tourism, health and wellness, and for the very first time, the arts are now identified as a priority tourism product portfolio,” enthused Secretary Frasco.

“There is much work that needs to be done. Our greatest challenge now is to not only to grow the industry back to its pre-pandemic level, which used to hold more than 12 percent of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product, but to exceed our previous position and take a primary tourism position in the ASEAN and globally as that is the birthright of every Filipino. We anticipate that with the gradual recovery of the tourism industry, this industry will once again become one of the major drivers of the national economy, and a major contributor to our gross domestic product,” added Secretary Frasco.

Additional Budget for the DOT?

To enable the attainment of the DOT’s plans and programs, Secretary Frasco rallied for the favorable decision of the House of Representatives on the Department’s budget for FY 2023. However, several lawmakers noted the necessity of increasing the Tourism Department’s proposed budget, underscoring the tourism industry’s significant contribution to the Philippine economy.

“We cannot send a good soldier to battle with only a knife on hand. I strongly support for a higher budget for the Tourism Department with all the good intentions to succeed in mind,” said Minority Leader Representative Marcelino Libanan of Partylist 4Ps.

“If the majority would increase the said budget, I would support and welcome the move. As a revenue and job generating department, adequate budgetary support must be accorded to the Department of Tourism so that the Philippines can compete for tourism arrivals with our ASEAN neighbors and create local livelihood opportunities,” remarked Representative Edcel Lagman of the 1st District of Albay.

“I fully trust the capability of our Secretary of Tourism and am calling on all my colleagues in the House to closely discern the relevance of the DOT and perhaps look at the possibility of increasing the budget of the Department that as we know is struggling at the moment,” said Representative Jefferson Khonghun from the 1st District of Zambales. “We feel that with the 3.2 billion, the proposal is so small compared to the income that is being gained out of the tourism industry,” added Representative Wilter Palma from the 1st District of Zamboanga Sibugay.

Frasco welcomed the proposal to increase the budget of the DOT. “While I could have just stayed in my beloved town of Liloan, I accepted the tourism portfolio with high hopes because the President has identified the tourism industry as one of the top priorities of his administration. This optimism has reverberated across all sectors of the tourism industry. And, therefore, I come before you today with high hopes as well that with the support of the House of Representatives, the Tourism Department will receive the budget that it needs to fulfill all the visions and programs of the President,” enthused Secretary Frasco, who prior to taking on the role as the DOT’s head, served as the Mayor of Liloan in Cebu.

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