THE closure of the “Best Island in the World” is going to affect the efforts of travel agencies and tour operators to sell the Philippines to foreign tourists.
In a statement sent to the BusinessMirror, Cesar Cruz, president of the Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa), said: “The uncertainty whether it will close or not, when and how long will it last, is already creating a big confusion both among tour operators and the market. The short-term effect could be a possible cancellation of bookings and totally taking out Boracay as a destination in the Philippines. The long-term effect is losing our hold on the existing markets to our Asean neighbors, which means that our marketing efforts for the destination will be set back by three to four years.”
He also pointed out that “just announcing the possible closure of Boracay is more than enough to create that kind of confusion among Philippine stakeholders [tour operators, accommodation and transportation] and the domestic and foreign tourism markets.” He added that the months of April to July are “critical” for said stakeholders, as these months are the peak travel season for the domestic and Asian markets.
“For Europe and other long-haul markets, the forthcoming winter season [November to March] will be very crucial, as reservations [for Boracay] are supposed to come in now for this period,” he noted.
Task Force Boracay, headed by Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, has recommended that President Duterte put the island under a state of calamity for six months, and close it for a maximum of one year. No decision has been made by Duterte regarding the closure, according to presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr. on Tuesday, but government sources said the announcement of a state of calamity will likely be made by March 26.
“Boracay is an iconic destination of the Philippines. Boracay is the face of Philippine tourism. Closing Boracay is not as simple as would have been perceived by people outside of the industry. Negative perceptions of other Philippine destinations in terms of safety and cleanliness could also be an effect of the closure. The negative effect in marketing is very difficult to imagine since it will really be big,” Cruz stressed.
To enable the travel and tourism stakeholders to immediately plan out their strategies, he urged the government to make a decision when it will close the island, how long will the period of closure be, and announce “the extent of the rehabilitation work to be done, as well as benchmark targets of accomplishment.” The Department of Tourism (DOT) is targeting visitor arrivals to reach 7.5 million this year.
Meanwhile, Ramon S. Ang, president and COO of San Miguel Corp. (SMC), expressed support for the closure of the island, despite the anticipated reduced operations of its airport in Caticlan. SMC, through Trans-Aire Development Holdings Corp., operates the Godofredo P. Ramos Airport in Malay, Aklan.
“We express our full support to the government’s initiative to rehabilitate Boracay,” Ang said in a statement sent to this paper. “While shutting down the island to tourism for a period of time will have an impact on businesses—including airport operations—we believe that this is the right thing to do.”
He underscored that the island “is a national treasure that we should all work toward protecting. That includes all of us stakeholders and our visitors and tourists, as well. By supporting this bold but much-needed action, and doing our part to contribute to this massive effort, we will be ensuring Boracay’s survival and status as the country’s top tourist destination for generations to come.”
Sources in Philippine Airlines (PAL) said its flights would likely continue to Caticlan, although at a lesser frequency. “A total suspension of flights seems unlikely,” the sources said. “We still have to cater to the residents in Boracay and those who will do the rehabilitation work,” the sources added.
Regarding the closure’s impact on the pioneering flag carrier, PAL Spokesman Cielo Villaluna said in a text message: “Our capacity to Caticlan via Manila, Clark and Cebu daily is at 750 seats. If we average 80-percent passenger load factor, that’s 600 seats flown per day. Flight cost varies depending on the fare class and season.”
She added: “Our China and Korea flights to Kalibo may be affected, too. We don’t want to unduly alarm [our customers]. You see, the direction of the DOT is for partial operation or scaled-down operations to Caticlan and Kalibo.”
On Monday, various aviation sources admitted that airlines plying the Kalibo and Caticlan routes will likely incur huge revenue and opportunity losses with the closure of Boracay. (See, “Carriers to take a ‘big hit’ from closure of Boracay,” in the BusinessMirror, March 20, 2018.)