A TOURISM industry leader warned would-be tourists about making vacation plans on Boracay Island, especially for the forthcoming long All Saints’ Day weekend, because of the distinct possibility that their booked resorts would not be open by October 26.
This developed as an official of the Department of Tourism (DOT) confirmed that the agency is targeting the reopening of just 30 percent of the hotels and resorts on the island.
Local airlines, however, have already started selling seats to the island, with most returning to their regular flight schedules to Caticlan and Kalibo, in anticipation of the island’s reopening, as announced by Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu.
“We’ve always believed that October 26 would just be a partial reopening of the island. We did not expect it to be fully opened by then,” said Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Jose Clemente III. “The conditions imposed by the interagency Task Force Boracay, especially with regard to the construction of mandatory sewage-treatment plants for hotels with 49 rooms and up, have made it difficult for all establishments to be open by then. As a result, the island may only have a limited number of rooms available once October 26 comes around.”
As such, he warned, “people planning to go to Boracay should first check if the resorts they booked with have already been accredited by the DOT, as this is the condition for their reopening.”
This was confirmed by Assistant Secretary for Tourism Regulation, Coordination and Resource Generation Ma. Rica C. Bueno who said the DOT Region 6 (Western Visayas) office is targeting “3,000 to 5,000 rooms” to be open by October 26. As of March 2018, the DOT estimated the total number rooms on Boracay at some 15,000.
The DOT earlier announced its “no accreditation, no reopening” policy for Boracay. For a tourism accommodation or enterprise to reopen, it must first comply with the new guidelines of the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) regarding relevant permits. (See, “DOT chief quotes DU30: No casinos on Boracay,” in the BusinessMirror, July 30, 2018.)
According to Charo Logarta Lagamon, Cebu Pacific (CEB) Air’s Director for Corporate Communications, “we never stopped selling flights October 28 onwards based on the six-month timeline [of Boracay’s closure].” This means at least nine flights to and from Caticlan from Clark and Manila, she said, from the current zero flights. As per its web site, starting on October 28, flights between Manila and Kalibo are twice a day, everyday, while between Cebu and Kalibo, flights are at least six times a day. The airline had downscaled its flights from Manila to Kalibo at 14 times a week during the island’s closure.
Lagamon said they had also asked DOT for a “written notice” of the island’s reopening because CEB’s foreign markets like the Japanese and South Korean clients need one. Before the island’s closure, the airline had two times a week scheduled flights between Kalibo and Incheon, and chartered flights to Kalibo from several destinations in China “about once or twice a month.”
The DOT, however, has yet rescind its memorandum order to its tourism attaches abroad to stop selling Boracay to foreign tourists. The memorandum order was signed in April, a week before the closure, by then-Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo.
For pioneering flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL), its winter schedule shows 30 times a week flights from Manila to Caticlan, 12 times a week flights from Manila to Kalibo, and flights to Kalibo from Beijing (six times a week) from Busan (four times a week), and from Seoul (14 times a week), all starting October 28. No flights from Cebu and Clark to either Kalibo or Caticlan were available on the carrier’s web site.
“Initially, these are the scheduled flights. When booking improves, we will increase frequency,” said PAL President Jaime J. Bautista.
On its web site, AirAsia Philippines has also started offering 30 flights a week between Manila and Caticlan starting on October 28.
All three government agencies—the DOT, DENR and DILG—have set up a one-stop shop at CitiMall in Station 3 for Boracay stakeholders to start processing their environmental clearance certificates, business and other relevant permits, and tourism accreditation.
President Duterte ordered the closure of Boracay Island, once dubbed the “best beach in the world” by travel magazines, for six months beginning on April 26. It was to make way for the government rehabilitation program, which entails the restoration of environmentally stressed areas, completion of the sewerage system, removal of easement obstructions, widening of the main road, construction of a diversion road and decongestion of the island of transport vehicles.
In 2017 the island attracted some 2 million visitors, more than half of which were foreign tourists. Visitor receipts generated by the island reached P56 billion last year.