Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tap P3.6 B travel tax collection to build restrooms so tourists won't 'self pee' anywhere - Recto

MANILA-Government was told to earmark part of its P3.6 billion annual travel tax collection for the building of roadside rest rooms so that local and foreign tourists bound for the “sun, sea, sand, shopping” destinations will not “self pee” anywhere.

Sen. Ralph Recto made the recommendation to Tourism officials Thursday during the Senate hearing on the proposed 2015 budget of the Department of Tourism (DoT).

Recto said that in many feedback surveys, the absence of clean toilets has been listed as a major complaint by travelers.

“When a tourist comes out of the plane, the first destination he goes to is the restroom.  So if we believe in the power of first impression, then we should make restrooms presentable,” Recto told Tourism officials led by DoT secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr.  

Recto said government should tap travel tax payments made by departing passengers, in building more restrooms “possibly under a joint venture scheme with local governments, state colleges, civic groups, tourism associations.”

As to source of funds, Recto said “government collects about P5 million in travel tax a day. Just a day’s collection can already build several comfort rooms.” 

One “priority area” where these should be built, Recto said, is along national highways.

“If you travel the whole length of the Pan Philippine Highway from Aparri to General Santos or to Zamboanga, eh mabibilang mo lang sa daliri mo ang restrooms owned and maintained by the government,” Recto said.

“The public toilet per kilometer ratio is one of the lowest in the world,” he said. “The last report I read is that there’s about 1 for every 1,000 kilometers.”

With the Philippines targeting 8.2 million foreign visitors and 51.7 million domestic tourists next year – which has been declared as Visit Philippines Year –  “then all the more that we should build more restrooms which can cater to more tourists,” Recto said.

While commercial facilities like restaurants and gas stations have toilets, Recto said the ideal situation is that one can have access to a toilet “without having to buy a burger.” 

“Maraming mga lugar na walang gas station o fastfood. So ano gagawin ng isang turista? Eh di malamang  ‘self pee’ na lang  kahit saan,” Recto said.

To address the lack of “roadside comfort facilities,” Recto urged the DoT of studying the possibility of offering equity to local governments, state schools, civic groups in building and maintaining “comfort stations that can have other functions as well.”

“Pwedeng maging pasalubong center o kaya isang lugar na pwedeng kunan ng tourist brochures. Pwedeng tayuan ng convenience store. State colleges, which have the land, can use one as a practicum area for their HRM or hotel restaurant management students,” he said.

He said these facilities can be self-sustaining and income generating. “You know some malls make money out of pay-per-use toilets.”

Recto, who is the Senate President Pro-Tempore, chairs the Finance subcommittee which hears the budget of the DoT and its allied agencies.

For next year, the DoT and its three attached agencies have a proposed budget of P3.8 billion.

Operating budgets of five DoT corporations will total P5.7 billion, but these are off-budget items not included in the General Appropriations Act.

One of the DoT affiliated corporations is the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) which is responsible for collecting the travel tax.

Under a Marcos-era law, the latter is imposed on departing airline passengers at the following rates:  P1,620 for an economy class passenger, P800 for certain types of travelers,  and P300 for dependents of  Overseas Filipino Workers.

Not all travel collections are retained by TIEZA as 40 percent is remitted to the Commission on Higher Education.  After mandated shares of other agencies are deducted, it is left with half of the collections, which it uses for its operations and to finance tourism projects.

The government will also be spending P16.3 billion to build or repair roads to tourist destinations and P10.2 billion to improve seaports and airports. The budgets for the two are, however, lodged in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) respectively.

Recto said DPWH should study the feasibility of including the construction of restrooms on public lots along the major roads they will build.

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