“We have to remember that Boracay is just one place, but you cannot separate that from the Philippines,” Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jojo Clemente told The STAR. Philstar.com/File Photo

Boracay closure to hit entire tourism industry
Catherine Talavera (The Philippine Star) - March 18, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The total closure of Boracay for a maximum of one year will not only impact the tourism of the island but of the entire country, an industry group said yesterday.

“We have to remember that Boracay is just one place, but you cannot separate that from the Philippines,” Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) president Jojo Clemente told The STAR.

“You cannot isolate Boracay. It’s part of the total Philippine tourism product. Eventually, when you take Boracay out of the picture, it will not only be Boracay that will be affected (but) the entire Philippines will be affected,” he added.

Clemente explained Boracay is a staple destination in tour packages offered by travel agencies to foreign tourists.

While tourists might agree to replace Boracay with an alternative destination in the country, Clemente said the question remains whether these destinations have the capacity to cater to these tourists.   

“We can easily say that we can substitute Cebu, Bohol, but can the capacities of those places take up the slump of Boracay, considering these are also heavily visited places as well? So we cannot really add more to what they are taking in,” Clemente said.

Last year, the province of Aklan registered a 14.43 percent increase in arrivals to 2.2 million from 1.94 million in the year before. Bulk of the tourists were those visiting Boracay Island.

If these alternative destinations cannot cater to the number of displaced tourists from Boracay, Clemente said travel agents might remove the entire Philippines from the tour packages they offer. 

“So in that sense it’s not only Boracay that will be affected. It will also be the other places that would have been visited by the tourists,” Clemente said.

“Maybe when they were coming up with these plans, they didn’t think that far ahead or they didn’t think broadly of the overall effect. All they saw was just Boracay. If you look at the total picture, it’s not just Boracay. It’s the total picture that they have to look at,” Clemente stressed.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu, who led an interagency task force with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), earlier recommended the total closure of the island for a maximum of one year.

While the closure can be anywhere from two months to one year, Clemente said the maximum period of a year is actually quite “shocking and a bit disappointing to the tourism industry.”

He emphasized the tourism industry would be amenable if the rehabilitation will be done on a phase-by-phase basis or without a total closure for the island.

Clemente also stressed the stakeholders of Boracay have always been willing to cooperate with the rehabilitation of the island, since it is also in their best interest.

“But the main thing is that they have not yet received any concrete details and plans (about the rehabilitation), which of course prevents them from coming up with a plan to help,” he said.

While Boracay stakeholders have been constantly portrayed as the “bad guys,” Clemente said they have owned up to their mistakes and are willing to correct them.

“If it’s going to make it faster, if it’s going to be a better rehabilitation, then the stakeholders are all for it,” he said.

Moreover, Clemente said closing the island for one year would also lead to the deterioration of facilities in Boracay establishments since they would not be regularly used.

On the other hand, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) expressed support for the temporary closure of Boracay.

TIEZA general manager Pocholo Paragas said they agree to the decision since the TIEZA has a pending project to overhaul the drainage system in the island.

Boracay is under the regulatory authority of TIEZA.

According to Paragas, the joint task force under the DILG and the DENR will be looking into the various violations and illegal connections in terms of sewerage and drainage operations in the island.

Even before the President fumed about Boracay being a “cesspool,” Paragas revealed TIEZA already had a project to improve the drainage and sewage issues in Boracay.

Following the joint task force’s recommendation for a total closure, Paragas said the proposal is timely to allow TIEZA to fast track its three-year plan to rehabilitate the area.

Paragas said TIEZA needs to fast track the procurement of the remaining five Contract Packages 1A, 2, 3, 4 and 5. 

With the fast-track procurement to be undertaken by TIEZA, Paragas said the move will allow them to start construction for all the contract packages, starting on the first week of July 2018. 

“The Boracay drainage system was programmed to be implemented, taking into consideration the impact in immediate reduction of the recurring inundation at the Central Business District and at Bulabog High School ground with due consideration of the operation of the existing drainage system while construction is being implemented,” Paragas explained.

TIEZA officials said the major drainage upgrade would entail right of way (ROW) concerns.

“Some stretches along the existing road alignment does not have the required ROW corridor of at least four meters wide to accommodate the construction of the proposed drainage system underneath the road,” Paragas said.

TIEZA stressed all the construction packages would address the flooding in the island resort.

“The unexpected increase of tourists on the island and the consequent increase of establishments contributed to the large storm water runoffs that flowed towards low lying areas, thereby causing flood in Boracay,” TIEZA added.

Just in case

With the plans to close up Boracay for a while, airline firms said they are willing to suspend flights going to the island resort.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has announced plans to suspend flights to Caticlan.

Low-cost carriers Cebu Pacific and Philippines AirAsia Inc. said they are also ready to cancel services to the island and offer passengers to fly to other destinations should the government decide to close the popular tourist destination. 

Cebu Pacific spokesperson Charo Logarta-Lagamon said the Gokongwei-owned carrier is monitoring developments regarding the government’s rehabilitation of Boracay. 

“We will take the necessary actions as soon as we have clarity on the government’s plans and timeline. 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,” she said. 

In the meantime, she said Cebu Pacific is encouraging passengers planning to book vacations in the coming months to consider other destinations being served by the carrier. 

Philippines AirAsia Inc. chief executive officer Dexter Comendador said the carrier would comply in the event airlines are required to cancel flights. 

“Whatever they (government) say we need to do, we’ll follow. Of course, we will try to rebook without charges,” he said. 

Comendador said the carrier would encourage affected passengers to visit other destinations. 

“We will try to offer them an alternative vacation place. Probably Puerto Princesa, Bohol or Davao,” he said. 

Comendador said affected passengers would also have the option to get a refund for the payment made for tickets.

Earlier, PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said the flag carrier would make the necessary announcements on flights the moment the government makes a pronouncement in relation to the rehabilitation of Boracay. 

President Duterte has threatened to close Boracay that he said was becoming a “cesspool” due to the lack of sewerage system in the tourist destination. 

Duterte has also said he is looking to declare a state of calamity in Boracay, as well as to file cases against local officials for allowing the deterioration of the tourist destination.

The President had tasked the DENR and the DILG to clean up Boracay within six months. 

A joint task force led by Cimatu has recommended the closure of Boracay for one year in order to rehabilitate the tourist destination. – With Christina Mendez, Louella Desiderio

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