Competition in the tourism industry may have prompted a Thai newspaper to brand the Philippines as the “land of COVID-19,” Malacañang said Wednesday.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines and Thailand are “fierce competitors” in the tourism sector, which has taken a huge hit as countries imposed travel restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“I’m sure their statement that we are the Land of COVID is also motivated by the fact that they are struggling to invite people to come visit Thailand again,” Roque told CNN Philippines in an interview.
Thailand had 6.69 million foreign tourist arrivals in the first six months of the year, down 66% compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report by Reuters last week. Last year, Thailand attracted a record 39.8 million foreign tourists.
By comparison, the Philippines reportedly welcomed 1.3 million visitors from January to July 2020 as compared to over 4 million foreign tourists in the same period last year. A total of 8.26 million foreigners visited the Philippines in 2019.
“They’re worse off in so far as they have a bigger tourism industry than us, so that’s the context by which we should listen to this comment coming from our ASEAN neighbors,” Roque said.
“We are the closest of friends but we’re also the closest competitors as far as economic interests are concerned because we’re dealing with exact same commodities and in the case of Thailand, it’s tourism in particular.”
Roque earlier asked for understanding from Filipinos over the characterization of the Philippines in the headline of newspaper Thai Rath, which recently published a story on the return of Filipino teachers in Bangkok.
The Palace official said the viewpoint of Thai Rath was considered free speech even as he cited the media restrictions in Thailand.
For his part, Consul General Val Simon Roque said the characterization was “inappropriate, insensitive, and unhelpful” at a time when Southeast Asian countries are working together to address the pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Philippines reported 139,538 COVID-19 cases, the highest in Southeast Asia, while Thailand recorded 3,356 cases.
“What is important is people to know the overall context of how we’re doing. We’re still number 22 [in the world in terms of caseload], which is still not bad given that we don’t have the same resources available as the United States has,” Roque said.
“We now have the highest testing being conducted in Southeast Asia. And although I’m not sure if we’re the highest in Asia now, we have even exceeded the testing done in South Korea and in Japan.” —AOL, GMA News