Senators flagged the budget allocation of the Department of Tourism (DOT) to spend millions of pesos for its 2021 branding campaign program amidst COVID-19 lockdowns.
In a hearing on the DOT's proposed 2022 budget, Senator Imee Marcos questioned 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, based on the report of CNN Philippines.
"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 also agreed with Marcos' statement and said it would have been better if the budget was used to address the needs of the industry.
However, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat clarified that the department only received ₱400 million for domestic promotions.
"For 2021... It was reduced to ₱400 million. It was reduced by ₱1 billion," she said.
Still, Marcos maintaned that the Philipines is on lockdown. "Bakit pa kayo nagba-branding? Nakakapagtaka," the senator said.
(Why are you still investing in branding? It's puzzling.)
According to Marcos, the DOT should utilize the budget 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 stated.
"This is the same issue we encountered last year for which we have not received sufficient explanation," she added.
WTTC will proceed in March? Senators say otherwise
Marcos also doubts the decision of the DOT to hold an international tourism summit in the country on March 2022.
Earlier, Puyat announced that the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit is set in the Philipines by next March, and according to the senator, it is a "premature" move.
The said summit was supposed to be held this October; however, it was postponed due to global 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."
(Shouldn't we vaccinate people more, treat COVID-19 cases, and lower the infection numbers before holding an international summit like this? This may end up embarrassing us. Filipinos may get infected.)
But, protocols are already made to hinder the spread of the coronavirus, and the national COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force has approved these, Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones, chief operating officer of the Tourism Promotions Board, said.
According to Allones, the department is planning to do something similar to what Mexico did last April 2021, wherein they'll conduct an on-site and virtual event mix.
She also added that usually, there are 1,500 attendees, but the city of Cancún only permitted 500 to 600 delegates to attend physically, 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 said.
But, Marcos mentioned that for herd immunity to happen, the percentage of vaccinated individuals needed is now higher than the year-end target due to the presence of the highly contagious Delta variant.
"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."
(Source: CNN Philippines)