NO CHINESE TOURISTS? DOT-6 bats for room rate sale, intraregional tourism

Department of Tourism-6 Director Helen Catalbas (PIA photo

By Jennifer P. Rendon

In 2019, Chinese tourists or travelers accounted for around 50 percent of the 434,175 foreigners who visited the world-famous Boracay Island in Aklan province.

But with the ban on travelers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau, the Department of Tourism (DOT-6) acknowledged that it might severely affect the tourism industry not only of Aklan province but the entire region as well.

Before the travel ban, there were six direct flights from Wuhan, the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus, to Kalibo via Royal Air Charter and Pan Pacific Airlines every week.

But Atty. Helen Catalbas, DOT-6 regional director 6, is optimistic that all is not lost for individuals who rely on tourism for livelihood.

To recall, Boracay Island went through massive cancellations because of typhoons in the past. It also recently came out of a 6-month closure and rehabilitation.

“But this crisis now is region-wide. It’s doubly made serious by the fact that what used to be our asset during good times – the six airports – is now a facility that may cause so much health risks in this region,” she said.

But the DOT-6 said is not about to let the nCoV ground the region’s tourism industry.

During the joint meeting of the Regional Development Council VI and Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) on Thursday, Catalbas said she has scheduled meetings of different stakeholders in the region.

Next week, she will personally visit Boracay Island.

“I will go there and talk to the establishments with massive cancellation and offer to them the marketing facility of DOT – Region 6,” she said.

The strategy? Catalbas said they will urge hotels and resorts to offer room rate sales.

“I believed that discounted room rates are better than empty rooms,” she said.

Empty rooms will equate to loss of employment and livelihood for hundreds of thousands of Western Visayas who are dependent on tourism, she said.

When it comes to tourism, Catalbas said Western Visayas is the top region with six very active airports and more than 200 islands.

“We can’t afford to be stranded or downed or flattened to the ground because of this nCoV. We have 8 million residents if we rally behind us – all this 8 million – and avail or even just 20 percent to visit our tourist attractions in the region at discounted rates, I’m sure they would enjoy Western Visayas on their own,” she said.

At the same time, businesses will not close shop.

Catalbas said the region’s population is a potent force to prevent the closure of businesses.

“If you are given 50 to 75 percent discount and assured that the place is safe because the contaminants or possible carriers have been canceled out, wouldn’t you come?” she said.

By giving discounts, Catalbas said they aim to promote domestic tourism or intraregional tourism for that matter with residents from other provinces of Western Visayas visiting other provinces within the region.

“Business will go one and we don’t have to go far to attract foreigners,” she said.

Meanwhile, some four days ago, Catalbas said they sent monitoring requests to all Western Visayas tourism officers and accredited tourism entities to submit to the DOT regional office their duly accomplished but confidential monitoring reports.

The reports state the names of establishments, the kind of establishments, the date of cancellation of guests, the number of bookings that were canceled, and the estimated value of canceled bookings.

Catalbas said they would use the data in getting or attracting alternative markets to the Chinese market that is now a no-no in the region.

She added that they have established and engaged DOT accredited establishments to activate their medical units that will provide medical consultation services and body temperature check-ups and provide sanitizers and alcohol.

“In doing these processes, they should provide utmost courtesy – non-abrasive procedures or approach – to hotel or resort visitors because in this serious crisis that we are facing, we would like to still to advance our slogan, ‘It still more fun in the Philippines’,” she added.