With Boracay closure, airlines and hotels scramble for ‘interim plans’

MANILA, Philippines – Hundreds of hotels and the country’s 3 major airlines have begun counting the cost of President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to temporarily close Boracay Island, the Philippines’ top tourist draw, for an urgent major environmental rehabilitation.

Duterte on Wednesday, April 4, ordered to shut down Boracay for 6 months from tourists, starting April 26, in an effort to save from ruin the world-known island, which drew over 2 million tourists and over P50 billion in revenue last year. 

Philippine Airlines Incorporated (PAL), Cebu Pacific Air, and AirAsia Philippines have announced the suspension of thousands of flights to and from Caticlan and Kalibo in Aklan. (READ: CHEAT SHEET: What to expect from Boracay closure)

Meanwhile, hundreds of accommodations, including the 5-star hotels, in the island have announced the closure of their shops from April 26 to October 25.

Hotels, airlines, and other establishments in Boracay have started drafting their own "interim plan," which aim to minimize the impact of the temporary closure on their employees and clients.

For instance, listed budget airline Cebu Pacific on Thursday, April 5, suspended 14 daily round-trip flights to and from Caticlan and Kalibo, estimating a foregone revenue of between $3 million and $5 million over the 6-month period. The estimates include losses from LaBoracay, an annual summer party where famous local and foreign artists gather, and which usually runs from April 30 to May 1. 

PAL also announced that it would scale down its services to Caticlan and Kalibo airports for a 6-month period beginning late April, as well as expand flights to other Philippine tourist and provincial destinations to help ensure the continued growth of domestic tourism.

Starting April 20, PAL said, it would only operate 9 weekly flights between Manila and Kalibo as well as 7 weekly flights between Manila and Caticlan to maintain continued links to these gateways to Boracay and Aklan province.

"All other Caticlan and Kalibo flights from Manila will be suspended from April 20 to October 27, while Caticlan and Kalibo flights from Cebu and Clark will be suspended from April 26 to October 27," PAL said in a statement.

PAL president Jaime Bautista said the flag carrier would continue to coordinate with the Department of Tourism to mitigate any adverse impact on both international and domestic tourism flows from the Kalibo and Caticlan cutbacks. 

"We seek the understanding of our passengers as your flag carrier and the aviation industry cooperate in this multi-sectoral endeavor," Bautista said in a statement.

Starting April 20, PAL will deploy additional flights on routes between Manila and Cebu, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa, and Bacolod. It will also increase flights on the following routes: between Cebu and Busuanga (Coron), Cebu and Siargao, as well as between Clark and Busuanga.

AirAsia Philippines has also suspended its daily flights to and from Caticlan and Kalibo from April 26 to October 26. 

In order not to disrupt its passengers' holiday plans, AirAsia said it would be mounting additional flights to Palawan, Bohol, Cebu, and Davao during that period.

"The impact of Boracay closure on our operation is almost insignificant compared to its effect on our guests, especially those who have saved up their money to be able travel this summer, which is why our focus is on assisting them and providing them with flexible options so as not to disrupt their holiday plans," AirAsia Philippines chief executive officer Dexter Comendador said in a statement.

Hotel bookings cancelled

Hundreds of hotels in the island have also begun to hurt. (READ: PH travel, tourism sectors girding for planned Boracay shutdown)

Discovery Shores Boracay announced in a statement that it would be closed from April 26 until further notice. 

"We understand that you, our valued guests, may have concerns regarding bookings already made with the said dates. Please rest assured that our lines are open to offer the best and reasonable solutions for affected bookings," the 5-star hotel's statement said.

Shangri-La's Boracay Resort and Spa announced that it would assist clients and staff who will be affected by the temporary Boracay closure.

"Our immediate priority is assisting our guests and clients who have existing reservations at the resort. We are also working on an interim plan to care for our employees when the 6-month closure goes into effect," the hotel's statement read.

Meanwhile, Boracay Foundation Incorporated (BFI), the largest business group on the island, had asked the government to give "clear and specific guidelines" pertaining to the closure.

"The haze of uncertainty for the past weeks has now been replaced by a grim realization that closure is indeed happening: sooner than expected, with less than a month to prepare," its statement read. 

"In the absence of clear guidelines communicated to us, we believe it is too premature for us to issue specific statements pertaining to the closure. The reality is the BFI is just as confused as everyone else because the pronouncement came too soon, with no clear and specific guidelines presented to us," it added.

The Boracay business group said it believes that the key issues of the island "will be addressed even less than 6 months" with the help and cooperation of all sectors concerned.

The famous island hosts around 1,800 businesses, including hotel chains and resorts. To help displaced workers, the government has set aside P2 billion in calamity funds.

The National Economic and Development Authority said a 6-month closure of the tourist area would have minimal impact on the economy. – Rappler.com