Determined to restart tourism all over again

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat carves a “bulol” with National Artist for Film Kidlat
Tahimik at Ili-likha Artist Village.

We spent most of the summer months indoors under a strict community quarantine, both this year and last. This was an essential measure to curb the alarming surge we experienced with new variants of the virus.

But after every hibernation comes a slow reawakening, as people emerge from their homes and gradually start business and social activity again.

When NCR Plus moved into general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions, the Intramuros Administration (re)opened two of its sites, Fort Santiago and Baluarte de San Diego, with a tribute to the men and women behind Intramuros, workers from the informal tourism sector whose livelihoods had been disrupted.

A total of 295 workers, including 138 carinderia and ambulant vendors, 87 security personnel, 20 janitors, 20 Department of Tourism (DOT)-accredited pedicab drivers and 30 calesa drivers, received a one-time handout of P5,000 from the DOT-DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) Cash Assistance Program.

Under the Bayanihan 2 Act, P3.1 billion has been allotted as cash aid for displaced tourism workers. Across all our regions, we have disbursed funds to golf caddies, surf instructors, tour guides, wedding suppliers, blind masseurs, even media front-liners, who have all been affected by the pandemic and the loss of tourism.

Since we began distributing the cash aid in April, we have assisted more than 557,359 workers from 19,463 establishments, organizations and associations, as well as 18,675 tourism workers who applied individually. It’s a small amount intended to help beneficiaries make it through the short-term period, with our end goal being the reopening of our destinations and the restart of tourism.

Safe and gradual

The seemingly endless cycles of opening and closing and the waves of rising and falling have made restarting tourism very difficult, but I am determined to get the industry back on its feet. The DOT continues to inspect and validate destinations around the country in support of their safe and gradual reopening while simultaneously awarding beneficiaries from the region.

I recently visited Marinduque, a small island whose tourism sector lost P400 million in revenue in 2020. With House Speaker Lord Velasco and Gov. Presby Velasco as my tour leaders, I also got to explore the province’s many attractions. It’s a perfect place to visit once the island opens its doors. It welcomes you with the charming Marinduqueño ceremony of putong or tubong, where guests are serenaded and crowned.

Famous for its Moriones festival, Marinduque also has many beautiful beaches, undiscovered dive sites, underground rivers and caves, a heritage district, and huge butterfly farms. The summit of Mt. Mataas offers not just a magnificent view, but is also the location of the Luzon Datum of 1911, considered the geodetic center of the Philippines.


At the start of June, I went up to Baguio to award 10 organizations representing 1,556 beneficiaries in the arts, events, night market and other sectors, services that serve as the backbone of the tourism economy.

In the Cordillera region, a total of 32,000 displaced workers will receive aid. National Artist for Film Kidlat Tahimik was present on behalf of the Vocas Foundation of local artists who have contributed much to tourism, but have also been unduly affected by the pandemic.

Thank you, Tatay Kidlat, for the opportunity to try to carve a bulol at your Ili-likha workshop. I have utmost respect for your artisans!

Our projects for long-term recovery involve the development of new tourism circuits, which include activities and attractions that cater to the evolving preferences of travelers. In the Cordilleras, cyclists will be able to explore the highlands of Tinoc, Ifugao and Kabayan, Benguet.

Now that travel restrictions have eased up again, I encourage people to take this opportunity to stretch their locked-down legs and help breathe life into our empty tourism sites—but to do so safely.

Vaccinated workers

Vaccination is a crucial and extremely urgent step to reducing infections and restarting the economy, and I hope more people will be less hesitant about getting the jab now that strong evidence is out about their efficacy.

I’m very happy to note that, at the time of this writing, we have already vaccinated at least 4,209 tourism workers classified as either A1 or A4, who are employed in DOT-accredited and LGU-licensed quarantine and isolation facilities, as well as nonquarantine DOT-accredited and basic registered accommodation establishments. These tourism front-liners have to interface with travelers from all over the world—last month we marked the 1 millionth returning overseas Filipino to be swabbed—and they deserve to be protected.

As we ease into a less restrictive GCQ, it feels like we’re starting over again. This time, let’s keep it safe, and let’s make it count—not just for our mental health, but for all the Filipinos whose livelihoods depend on tourism. —CONTRIBUTED INQ

The author is the Secretary of Tourism.