Agencies ask DFA to ease restrictions on passport services

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

THE Network of Independent Travel Agencies Association (Nitas) reiterated its appeal to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to ease restrictions on travel agencies from processing passports.

“The travel agencies last year were harassed so much that their number was reduced to 50 percent. All we want is for DFA and the government to also recognize the economic contribution and better services rendered by the travel industry associations,” said Nitas founder and president Robert Lim Joseph in an interview.

Joseph said that since the implementation of DFA’s directive limiting travel agencies in handling passport transactions, the number of travel agencies in Manila and Cebu has gone down.

There are now only 300 travel agencies recognized by DFA-Manila from the 750 last year, while Cebu has 47 to 49 travel agencies from 67 in 2012.

Nitas is a newly revived organization that helps small travel agency players in the country. It has 240 members nationwide.

Joseph, who also chairs the Tourism Educators and Movers Philippines, said travel agencies in Cebu are only allowed to handle nine passports each every day.

Joseph said they’d also been receiving reports of making passport transactions “very difficult.” For instance, travel agents in Cebu have to go to the DFA office to secure priority number at 2 a.m. and come back when the DFA office opens. Travel agencies in the province also have to be a member of a national organization to be accredited by the DFA to do business in their locality.

“What we appeal to the DFA is to implement business-friendly policies and recognize the travel agencies whether they are a member of an organization or not,” he said, adding that he is more concerned with the plight of small travel agencies.

Despite industry concerns, Nitas sees a promising outlook for the sector even with the growing direct online booking.

Although people nowadays personally book their own travels and accommodation online without seeking the services of travel agencies, Joseph said travel agencies have innovated their services and packages to attract people to buy their services.

“Online booking has eaten a big share of the market but travel agencies have become more creative, in putting tours that are no longer common and this make the business still viable and profitable even to this day,” he said.

Travel agencies offer services like passport processing, incentive tours, creating attractive travel packages, inbound domestic tours, convention events and lakbay aral, among others.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 13, 2013.


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