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'Travel with me around PH,' Duterte tells Filipinos amid tourism slump over coronavirus fears

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, February 14, invited Filipinos to travel with him around the country as the local tourism industry reels from government-imposed travel bans and public health concerns over the novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) threat.

"To my fellow Filipinos, I encourage you to travel with me around the Philippines. I assure you that everything is safe in our country, be it an issue of health, be it an issue of law and order, and be it an issue of accessibility," Duterte said in a taped message aired on state-run PTV4, which was interspersed with videos of the country's popular tourst destinations.

"Come with me and be my travel companion. I’ll be traveling around the Philippines. Pasyal tayo dito sa atin. Unahin natin 'yung atin (Let's go around the Philippines. Let's prioritize our own)," he said.

Duterte issued the statement two days after the House hearing on the economic impact of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the new virus – where Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat told lawmakers that the Philippines stands to lose at least P42.9 billion in tourism revenues for the peak tourist months of February to April due to the coronavirus threat.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, the Philippines has banned non-Filipino travelers coming from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. This led to canceled flights, cruise calls, and hotel and tour bookings around the country.

China is the Philippines' second biggest tourist market, after South Korea. 

To offset the tourism loss, Duterte urged Filipinos to boost local tourism. (READ: Finance team says PH economy 'can handle' coronavirus effects)

"Maraming magagandang mapuntahan sa Pilipinas, wala kayong dapat alalahanin (We have a lot of nice places in the Philippines, you have nothing to worry about)," he said.

He added that "hoteliers and carriers...have agreed to lower the rates so that we can be a viable market for the Philippines."

During a Palace news briefing, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles stressed the strength of the domestic tourism market, noting that expenditures for that sector reached P3.2 trillion in 2018. 

"Therefore there is a lot of opportunity to cushion or even compensate for the economic impact through domestic tourism," Nograles said.

Referring to Duterte's tourism campaign, the Cabinet Secretary added: "The DOT and the tourism sector with the support from the President will roll out exciting domestic tourism programs that will offer lower prices for airline fares within the country and hotel and resort accommodation across our tourist destinations."

Nograles also said that tourism industry players and other sectors that would be adversely affected by the slump due to the coronavirus can tap government lending programs offered by the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.

As of February 14, the Department of Health has not reported any case of local transmission of the novel coronavirus in the country. The Philippines has 3 confirmed cases – 1 of whom died while the other two had recovered. There are 191 persons under investigation (PUIs) for COVID-19 admitted in hospitals in various regions of the country. – Rappler.com