ARRIVALS in Boracay Island are gradually picking up in the weeks leading up to the annual All Saints’ Day/All Souls’ Day holiday.
A report from the Department of Tourism (DOT)-Region 6 (Western Visayas), indicated that total arrivals in Boracay reached 1,944 from October 1 to 25. Of the arrivals, 1,113 or 57 percent came from the National Capital Region (NCR). The rest are mostly from Aklan and Iloilo City.
Citing the report, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat told the BusinessMirror, “The highest number of tourists entering Boracay in a day was 208 last October 25 [Sunday], while the highest number of NCR tourists entering Boracay in a day was 194, also on Sunday. This may signal the start of the Undas holiday tourists.”
She added, the weekends have usually lured the tourists to Boracay, even those coming from NCR, since October 1, when the island started accepting visitors even from general community quarantine areas. This month’s arrivals are a far cry, however, from the 67,493 domestic tourists recorded in October 2019.
Interviews with a few resorts on the island show varying degrees of bookings. At Discovery Shores Boracay along Station 1, “It’s really picking up,” said Cathy Hidalgo-Nepomuceno, senior vice president, head of sales and operations, Discovery Hospitality. “Of course, [it’s] still not at the usual pace, which usually by this time, should be already full,” she added.
At Coast Boracay along Station 2, General Manager Randy Salvador said bookings have been slow. “Not much—just three rooms,” he added. But he expressed optimism that arrivals would eventually pick up, “It’s good that airlines are now open to land in Caticlan…slowly, but surely [more guests will come].”
Part of Coast’s new promo is to arrange for discounted RT-PCR tests of its guests with the Philippine National Red Cross, at P4,000 per person. Under the guidelines of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force, visitors to the island are supposed to take an RT-PCR test at least 72 hours before departure.
Price cap on Covid-19 tests urged
The Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI) has been batting for the use of the cheaper and faster antigen test to attract more tourists. In his letter to Romulo Puyat dated October 16, BFI President Edwin M. Raymundo noted the “prohibitive cost of the RT-PCR” test as among the hindrances in the arrival of guests to the island. “This is evidenced by the number of cancellations, a concern that was raised by our stakeholders,” he added.
RT-PCR tests cost anywhere from P4,000 to P6,500, with a turnaround time for results between 5-8 hours to as long as five days, depending on the medical center which processes the tests. The antigen test is cheaper at P1,500 to P2,500, with results as fast at 15 minutes to two days, again depending on the medical center or establishment where the test is taken. The World Health Organization, however, has said the antigen test is not as accurate as the RT-PCR test, considered the “gold standard” in Covid-19 testing.
Romulo Puyat has appealed for price cap on RT-PCR and antigen tests to help revive the domestic tourism business. “While the DOT acknowledges and puts paramount importance on the safety of visitors, locals, and the tourism work force, we likewise find it imperative to address the urgent need to impose a price cap on these accepted Covid-19 testing methods to promote domestic tourism, which in turn can generate employment and stimulate economic recovery,” she stressed.
Government recently eased interzonal and intrazonal travel restrictions, and prescribed minimum health standards amid Covid-19.
Seamless arrival noted
For his part, Edd Fuentes, owner of Sun Villa Resorts in Station 2, said while they have been receiving some booking inquiries for the Undas weekend, “they are not enough to justify [reopening my resorts]. It will just be too costly to operate the resorts with a few guests. The bulk of our bookings are for next year.”
Yet Discovery’s Nepomuceno, underscored the ease by which guests can book their visits to the island. The process of signing up with the local government’s web site for guests to get their QR code “is very good. It’s seamless from the moment you step foot on the plane all the way to the resort, because it’s pre-approved even before you leave [your city].”
But she added, the acceptability of antigen tests will definitely go a long way in boosting visitors to the island. Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores has said resorts have already cut their room rates by as much as 75 percent, which “offsets the expense paid for the RT-PCR test.” (See, “Boracay resorts seek antigen pilot-testing to lure tourists,” in the BusinessMirror, Oct. 6, 2020.)