‘Tourism task force a necessity’

THE association of tour operators in Cebu has welcomed the ongoing creation of a Cebu Tourism Task Force, saying it is a necessary measure at this time when the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak is taking a toll on the performance of the local tourism sector.

“The Cebu Alliance of Tour Operations Specialists (Catos) supports the direction of the Department of Tourism (DOT) to focus and strengthen domestic tourism activities and to stay resilient during this crisis. Creating a Cebu Tourism Task Force composed of government and private stakeholders is a necessary move,” Catos president Alice Queblatin told SunStar Cebu.

With summer just two months away, Queblatin said every stakeholder should collaborate to make an appealing tour package for domestic travelers.

“Preparing for travel in the coming summer season can be exciting, through a collaboration with hotels, tour operators, tour guides, domestic airlines, restaurants, malls and activity hubs to produce promo tour packages for the domestic market,” she said.

The DOT urged tourism-related establishments and service companies to focus on domestic tourism.

“We are confident that Cebu is an attractive destination with top facilities that attract diverse markets. We are ‘forward looking’ and even if there is a global ‘lower travel confidence,’ there is a stable confidence in domestic travel,” she said.

“Alongside, through the task force, the government can do positive measures to help tourism enterprises, hopefully by granting tax incentives, waiver or reduction of some business fees etc. When the international travel resumes aggressively, we must be able to rebound strongly,” Queblatin added.

Low foreign arrivals

Queblatin earlier said that foreign arrivals to Cebu are likely to tumble in the first quarter of 2020 due to travel restrictions from China and its special administrative regions (SAR).

“Arrivals in general for the first quarter will drop as a logical consequence,” said Queblatin, when asked about her short-term projection on visitor growth.

But she said the industry is hoping that arrivals from South Korea, which is Cebu’s top source of foreign tourists, would be sustained to offset the impact from the travel restrictions to and from China and its SAR.

China is Cebu’s second biggest foreign tourist source market.

Aside from the forgone tourist spending from the Chinese market, the temporary travel restriction is also putting pressure on profits of airlines flying from Cebu to China and vice versa.

In 2019, around 700,000 Chinese tourists visited the Central Visayas region, according to official estimates.

Meanwhile, Queblatin said they are still expecting arrivals from Europe until March.

“We are still expecting guests and a few groups from Europe in February until the middle of March transiting through Singapore or flying direct to Cebu. We hope the situation improves by then,” the travel operator said.

Queblatin is optimistic that arrival growth will bounce back similar to what happened in the past.

“Foremost and top priority is always the welfare of the citizenry, and the tourism stakeholders understand this,” she said.

Globally, the novel coronavirus has infected 64,434 people and caused 1,383 deaths. In Central Visayas, there are 27 persons under investigation and 124 persons under monitoring for the virus.

As of Thursday, Feb. 13, there were no additional positive Covid-19 cases in the region. (JOB / CSL)