MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine travel and tourism sectors are girding for the planned shutdown of Boracay Island, the country’s top tourist draw.
As President Rodrigo Duterte decides on a recommendation of key agencies to close the world-famous island resort to tourists for as long as a year, the country’s biggest business group said while the intention is good, the government should also consider the negative impact on businesses that depend largely on Boracay.
“Phasing is important so we are able to protect the interest of all parties concerned, especially the local residents whose incomes are dependent on Boracay’s economic activity,” Sammie Lim, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) director for tourism, said in a statement.
The proposed shutdown of Boracay is intended to address the ecological crisis hounding the island, but a complete closure of Boracay to tourists would displace thousands of workers.
Boracay establishments generated 17,737 jobs in 2017, the largest number in Western Visayas.
The island drew over two million local and foreign tourists in 2017, up by 16% from 2016, data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed. (READ: Aklan provincial board asks Duterte to reconsider Boracay closure)
Kalibo International Airport manager Efren Nagrama said about 90% of inbound passengers in KIA are tourists bound for Boracay, Aklan’s top tourism spot.
“The impact of Boracay’s closure is huge and will hit the tourism industry of Aklan as well as the transport sector,” Nagrama said.
KIA, one of the busiest regional airports in the country, caters to domestic flights from Manila, Cebu, and Davao; and international flights from China, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore.
The airlines serving Boracay have contingency measures and alternative plans to cushion the impact a possible Boracay shutdown.
Jenny Bugarin-Tan, AirAsia Philippines communications chief, told Rappler in a mobile phone reply that Asia Philippines operates almost 100 flights to and from Kalibo and Caticlan weekly.
To offset potential losses in the event of a shutdown, Tan said the budget carrier is thinking of adding more flights to other leisure destinations like Bohol, Palawan, Cebu, Davao, and Iloilo.
“[We are also looking at adding frequency to] Tacloban as there are gorgeous beaches and attractions in the area,” she said.
Tan also assured those who have already booked flights to Boracay that the airline will take care of them.
“Let’s wait for the announcement of the President. Rest assured all guests booked via AirAsia will be handled properly. We have prepared flexible options so as not to disrupt their holiday and summer plans,” she said.
Philippine Airlines Incorporated (PAL) operates a total of 52 flights weekly to Caticlan from Manila, Cebu, and Clark.
“PAL also operates a combined total of 36 flights weekly to Kalibo from Manila, Beijing, Busan, Chengdu. Nanjing, and Incheon,” PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna told Rappler.
At least 90% of passengers of each of these flights are Boracay-bound, she said, adding that the passenger load factor – a measure of flight utilization – of each flight is “in the high of 80% to 90%.”
Villaluna said PAL has “contingency measures” in case Malacañang decides on a Boracay shutdown.
“As we await a final directive from the government, contingency measures are in place to ensure passengers who will be affected by such temporary closure will be able to rebook, reroute, or refund their tickets,” she said.
Cebu Pacific said it has been monitoring developments regarding the government’s rehabilitation plan in Boracay.
“We will take the necessary actions as soon as we have clarity on the government’s plans and timeline,” Charo Logarta-Lagamon, Cebu Pacicifc corporate communications director, said in a text message.
“In the event we are required to cancel services, we will offer full refunds along with opportunities to transfer to other destinations where seats are available,” Lagamon added.
Since the Boracay issue cropped up, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo has repeatedly urged tourism players to promote alternative destinations in the country.
“The Philippines’ emerging destinations are so diverse. Many are fast-becoming water sports hubs for scuba diving, deep-sea photography and surfing. Others offer family-oriented adventures at farm resorts and eco-parks, and still others provide wellness and spa services,” Teo said.
The tourism chief cited Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte, Siargao in Surigao del Norte, and Camiguin island province as top picks among destinations featured in the department’s Go South, Go Mindanao campaign.
Teo also touted Cebu and Bohol, as well as Coron and El Nido in Palawan, as among the best tourist sites in the world.
Major developments pushing through
But even as the Duterte administration embarks on the rehabilitation of Boracay, the construction of major commercial developments in the island – its first integrated resort and casino and a 1,001-room beachfront hotel – are pushing through.
Listed gaming firm Leisure & Resorts World Corporation on Monday, March 19, disclosed that it recently bought a 23-hectare lot in Boracay to build an integrated resort and casino with Chinese partner Galaxy Entertainment Group Limited.
The beachfront Hotel 101 Resort-Boracay is a joint venture project of Hotel of Asia, a subsidiary of DoubleDragon Properties Corporation, and Newcoast South Beach Incorporated. (READ: Hotel 101 pushing through despite planned Boracay ‘shutdown’)
It will be located in Boracay Newcoast, a 150-hectare tourism estate of Global-Estate Resorts Incorporated (GERI), a Megaworld Corporation subsidiary.
“We’re still in the planning and design stages. That takes time – finalizing your plan and securing permits,” Hannah Yulo, chief investment officer at DoubleDragon, had said. “I think the cleanup is going to be a win-win for all the developers in the island.”
Muntinlupa City Representative Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon is among those opposed to the construction of a casino in Boracay.
“The appeal of Boracay is that it’s a beach and nature destination. It grew without the need for a casino to attract visitors. I’ve said it before, a casino in Boracay is a bad idea,” he said on his official Twitter handle.
He said the government’s approach to a Boracay clean-up “should be strategic and well thought out.”
“We might end up shooting ourselves in the foot by discouraging visits to these spots simultaneously,” Biazon said. – With reports from Boy Ryan Zabal / Rappler.com