Dear ‘Editor D’

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

I hope you get this column which I am sending out of Boracay Island. I recently discovered that while the whole world has gone digital and online, the same cannot be said about our “premier island destination.” I have been here even before Typhoon Odette struck the Visayas and I quickly learned from locals that instead of being a “storm chaser,” the principal preoccupation of many people here is chasing after internet signal by roaming around the island and at times raising your phone like a torch carrier for the Olympics. I spoke to a foreign national who’s a “Digital Nomad” and he said that it was initially a challenge to set things up because internet and mobile signal on Boracay Island is all dependent on your location and time of day. In the end the Digital Nomad decided to avail of Smart, Globe and Huawei.

Evidently, cable or fiber optic which piggybacks on the network of a local video cable company is quite reliable. The hitch is that you have to try numerous outlets, restaurants or resorts to figure out the best or strongest. As expected, the hotels that are 3 to 4 stars have very fast internet for reasons I am still investigating, while popular restaurants have likewise invested on faster internet-WiFi because it is now a standard for choosing a place to dine or drink coffee. The only hitch is that unless you have enough space or tables or considerate customers, chances are people will “camp” or “park” at your outlet doing selfies and sending out tons of photos or videos!

In many ways, the solution has become a poison pill resulting in “displaced” profit or lost customers. President Rodrigo Duterte through political will was able to close down Boracay, rehabilitate what many thought was a lost cause and now reaps praise from many of the tourists. Perhaps all traveling netizens to the island should also pray, post or ask the President to meet up with all the CEOs of telcos and find out why they cannot unify to upgrade and strengthen internet and mobile signal on the island and in Caticlan.

The poor or below par internet service on the island does not only affect Digital Nomads and businesses, it seriously affects operations and services of local government, airlines and many more. For instance, upon arriving at the Caticlan airport, our group of four passengers got delayed by one full hour because the QR code issued to one of us indicated “Not Valid for Air or Sea Travel.” The Province of Aklan has a system of differentiating tourists that enter the province or Boracay Island on-land (regional) or through ferry boats or airlines, perhaps for statistical purposes. Our friend had to reapply for a QR code three times and all attempts failed, primarily because the internet signal in Caticlan was so weak all of us could but pray for a spike in the internet speed, which eventually happened after one hour.

By the time we got out, I immediately warned all my Facebook friends intending to travel to provinces to make sure their QR codes are in order because one hour is precious time, especially if you’re paying for hotel rooms or have a limited number of days for vacation. I just hope that someone from the DILG picks up this story because as the “victim” of the delay pointed out, why was there a need to place a “restriction” or prevent exit at the airport or entry to Boracay simply because of the mode of travel? The issue is your health status, not type of vehicle. Someone also pointed out why there are two types of requirement – the S-PASS and the Provincial QR Code for the very same purpose of travel and destination!

While I’m at it, the Province of Aklan or the Municipality of Caticlan and the Department of Tourism should do much better than leave their health check personnel to rely on their own mobile phones to address such matters at the Caticlan airport. When we arrived, there were no signs or announcements to prepare our documents for inspection or verification at the arrival area. Then when our friend was stopped due to her QR code, there was no counter, no computer terminal, not even chairs for (our group of) senior citizens to sit. Aside from the unfortunate lack of equipment and facility, what shocked me was that the health checkers or QR code inspectors DID NOT HAVE A PLAN B. They could only try and try or go back on the next plane to Manila.

Tourism pa more? Improve the system first.

*      *      *

Flag carrier or not? Imagine owning and maintaining dozens and dozens of aircraft, paying for permission to fly international routes, paying thousands of dollars or euros daily to have ground operations in so many countries and be told in your own country where you are the “FLAG Carrier” that you can only carry or bring in a fraction of the number of passengers your aircraft are designed to carry!

Yesterday, there were 13 PAL international flights that landed at NAIA, given the quota of only 1,200 passengers, that means each aircraft only carried an average of 92 passengers per flight. Unless they all booked First Class I don’t think 92 passengers per flight gives PAL break even revenue.

Just to drive the point home, PAL as well as Cebu Pacific are the principal carriers that fly Filipinos out to the provinces. The bulk of inbound passenger allocation from abroad should be given to our flag carriers for seamless travel for Pinoys. The government may be trying to do a balancing act, so in that case why not increase the volume of inbound passengers but place the burden of responsibility for arranging testing and quarantine on the airlines; it is their business at stake so why not give them more say and do on what to do! That way more Filipinos and families can come home.

*      *      *

E-mail: [email protected]

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