CEBU should beef up its provincial healthcare system if it wants to drive back foreign tourist arrivals amid the pandemic, said a former tourism chief.
“To jumpstart the economy, we need to bring back international tourists at the earliest possible time,” said former tourism secretary Joseph Ace Durano.
He said a more robust tourism industry continues to be a key economic driver of socio-economic progress that is directly felt across all sectors primarily the transport, hospitality, agriculture and business community.
Durano, who is running for governor of Cebu in the 2022 elections, said a significant portion of the province’s budget must be dedicated to accelerate the healthcare services in provincial hospitals, as well as increase the Covid-19 vaccination rate through a massive information drive, if it wants to drive more economic activity back to pre-pandemic levels.
According to Durano, much of the information dissemination on vaccination is done through social media, leaving about 40 percent of the Cebuanos who have no internet access to the mercy of false misconceptions about the benefits of being vaccinated against Covid-19.
He said credible and respected healthcare professionals need to be equipped in properly educating the masses about Covid-19 vaccines to lure many more Cebuanos to get inoculated. He explains these are the people who live in far-flung barangays who have no access to connectivity and thus need the presence of trained barangay healthcare workers who can properly teach them the importance of being vaccinated.
“Cebuanos deserve a better healthcare system. Poverty does not equate to not having food on the table but poverty means that a single Cebuano does not have access to basic service such as healthcare. And healthcare is the most basic of all government services,” Durano pointed out.
Confidence of foreign tourists
Durano emphasized that these two formulas--a robust healthcare system and higher vaccination rate will bring back the confidence of foreign tourists to the country.
“At present, our top foreign markets like Japan, South Korea and China do not see the Philippines in their list as among the safest to visit,” he said.
In a nutshell, he said, the foreign travel market is “driven by fear” because of the uncertainties brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. He equated this “fear” to what the Philippine tourism sector was experiencing sometime in 2004 when many international tourists were apprehensive of visiting the Philippines due to issues on kidnapping.
To address this fear, Durano, during his term as tourism chief spearheaded the creation of “Tourist Cops” to increase visibility in highly populated tourist destinations, as well as the “Task Force Stingray” in partnership with the Philippine Navy to secure the country’s beach destinations.
Similarly, he said preparing Cebu’s tourist destinations as a safe place to travel will bring back the trust of many international travelers.
“We need to prepare Cebu and the rest of the country for the influx of these foreign arrivals with the knowledge that the Covid-19 virus will still be around. But if foreign tourists are assured that the majority of the country’s population are vaccinated and that there is a healthcare facility who can attend to them should they get sick, then they are more confident to travel back to the Philippines,” he said.
Durano mentioned that among the provincial hospitals that need to be elevated to a Level 2 category are those in Carcar, Balamban, Danao, Argao and Bogo, among others. A Level 2 hospital contains additional facilities like an intensive care unit, specialist doctors for gynecology and pediatric services, apart from minor care and supervision.
“There is no economic recovery if we cannot repair our healthcare system. Only then can we bring Cebu forward,” Durano said.