(PNA file photo)

MANILA – Camarines Sur 2nd District Representative Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. pushed for the passage of a measure seeking to impose a USD25 “tourist welfare tax” on foreign visitors staying for less than two months in the country to help fund tourist welfare services.

“House Bill No. 5285 intends to build on the growth of the tourism industry in the Philippines by generating funds for the improvement of services such as tourist information and assistance desks, tourism police training and special projects for disabled tourists,” said Villafuerte, whose province was at one time declared by the Department of Tourism (DOT) as the country’s No. 1 destination under his watch as three-term governor.

Villafuerte noted that the Philippine government imposes a travel tax on Filipinos traveling abroad but not on foreigners visiting the country.

“The collection of entry and exit taxes has been imposed by other countries on visiting foreign nationals in order to boost the funding for tourism. This is more commonly collected from travelers flying into a country, where the fee is incorporated into the airline ticket price,” he said. “In this proposed bill, we follow the same standard of including the Tourist Welfare Tax in the airfare prices.”

Under HB 5285, or the “Tourist Welfare Tax Act,” the collected fees will be allocated to the DOT for the development of tourist welfare services and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) for improving services in tourism infrastructure.

The tourist welfare tax will also be allocated to the tourism offices of local government units (LGUs) for developing or “leveling up their respective tourist-friendly programs,” the former governor said.

Under the proposed measure, the tourist welfare tax could be increased after five years to take into account inflation.

It also provides that refunds can be given for those erroneously charged, as well as tourists who spend more than USD10,000 in tourism receipts.

HB 5285 also provides for a list of exemptions from payment of the tourist tax.

Villafuerte said tourists who will stay in the country for more than 60 days and foreigners who have working visas will be exempted “to encourage long-staying, high-spending tourists to visit the Philippines.”

Also exempted from paying the tourist welfare tax are foreign visitors in transit to another destination and who are staying in the country for not more than 24 hours; foreign retirees with valid special retiree's resident visas issued by the Bureau of Immigration (BI); foreign students in the country for excursion or immersion who have been issued student visas; persons with disabilities (PWDs); children under the age of 12 who are accompanied by guardians or adults and those under the age of 15 who have secured waivers of exclusion ground (WEGs) from the BI and allowed admission to the country; officials and heads of foreign States visiting the Philippines; and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The bill mandates the DOT, TIEZA and Bureau of Internal Revenue to coordinate with each other and supervise the implementation of the measure.

Upon the effectivity of the measure, LGUs are mandated to devise a five-year local tourism development plan, which shall include the adoption of measures that are geared towards the safety, security and welfare of tourists. (PNA)