Boracay will bounce back
Because of the pandemic, Boracay welcomes only 300 to 500 guests daily nowadays. Before that, the island had 6,000 daily tourist arrivals.
Büm Tenorio Jr.

Boracay will bounce back

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - February 12, 2021 - 12:00am

MALAY, Aklan — The stretch of white sand on the island of Boracay from Station 1 to Station 3, over four kilometers long, gleams like pave diamonds under the desiccating sun. Its gin-clear waters come in varied shades of blue. Rolling clouds like massive cotton candies are fixed on the horizon. The island does not disappoint in its splendor. Its beauty is at once ravishing and calming. Boracay is a paradisiacal destination — as it’s always been. All the elements of Boracay that endear it to the guests are present.

Except for one — the upbeat vibe brought by its throng of tourists from around the world. It felt almost surreal to have the island enjoyed by only a paltry crowd now. In the time of the global pandemic, the local and international guests of the island come in trickles.

“Before the pandemic, Boracay had 6,000 tourist arrivals on a daily basis. Now, since it opened again in June 2020 after the hard lockdown, we have 300 to 500 tourist arrivals every day,” said Boyet Sacdalan, vice chairman of the Compliant Association of Boracay (CAB).

Compliant Association of Boracay vice chairman Boyet Sacdalan.

Sacdalan said CAB, which was formed during the six-month rehabilitation of Boracay in 2018, is the organization that sees the welfare of the more than 100 restaurants and bars in the island.

“From June to September 2020, there were 27,117 tourists who came from Western Visayas. From October to December 2020, 16,039 visitors from the National Capital Region came. Last January, 11,000 visitors from NCR visited the island, said Nenette Graf, past president of the Boracay Foundation Inc. She is now a councilor of Malay.

Local government records show over two million guests visited Boracay in 2019. The island had a good start in the first quarter of 2020 with 500,000 tourists. Then the pandemic happened. On top of that, last Christmas, typhoon Ursula devastated Boracay, touted to be the No. 2 on the roster of the 25 best beaches in the world, according to international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler.

Rigors of travel

Malay law enforcers are detailed at the beachfront. They are on the lookout for island guests who walk, jog or bike on the beach without a face mask. Face shields are also required when entering bars and restaurants.

Guests are required to register online at the local government’s tourism office before they can enter Caticlan Airport. A negative RT-PCR swab test is a major requirement, of course. A QR code is emailed by the tourism office to the guest upon completion of the requirements.

The pandemic is another game

Sacdalan said it was so much easier to recoup revenue losses during the six-month rehabilitation of Boracay than during the prolonged pandemic. “The pandemic is another ball game.”

He added only 20 to 30 percent of the more than 100 bars and restaurants in Boracay are operational now.

“Restaurants are open not to make money. Not even to have a break-even sale. Ang habol mo lamang ngayon ay kumita para may pambayad sa rent and salary,” said Sacdalan. Eight of the 10 restaurants he owns on the island have stopped operations due to the pandemic.

Graf said, “The Department of Tourism has already authorized more than 282 hotels to open but not all decided to operate. Only 187 resorts have opened and the rest are waiting for the coming of the international travelers. So far, it is the big hotels that benefit now because they are the ones that can offer accommodation at a cheaper rate.”

“Bagsak presyo na ngayon sa isla,” added Sacdalan. “For example, what used to be P70,000 for three nights for a deluxe double room in an upscale hotel is now P20,000 for the same length of stay.”

Sacdalan said tourists can even find a room for P1,000 a night in a hotel that has less than 20 rooms. Hotels with more than 20 rooms now charge up to P2,500 a night. He noted that many hotels are selling vouchers now.

Because rooms are cheap now, Sacdalan noted a trend of guests coming from Manila. “More than a hundred are BPO workers who, because they can avail themselves of a work-from-home setup, settle on the island for a long period. They can rent a room and even split the rental depending on how many will stay in one room. They can work and at the same time be on vacation mode.”

Malay, Aklan councilor Nenette Graf.

Overzealous vendors

Even the vendors peddling their wares at the beach were extra pushy in selling their merchandise. The few tourists on the island can’t blame them. The vendors are hungry.

“Bili na kayo, Sir. Pambili lang ng bigas. Pangkain lang ng pamilya ko,” Bombo Elizalde told a prospective buyer about to enter a restaurant as he presented him a stone sculpture of the Holy Family. He sold it for P150. No haggling. Elizalde said that the same artwork would sell for P500 before the pandemic.

Cedric Maghari, who offers island tours on a paraw, complained that for five days now, he was unsuccessful in enticing even just one tourist to take the tour. He, too, had the same spiel — pambili lang ng bigas.

Pre-pandemic, it was unlikely for a tourist to hear this sad line. Vendors used to be as agile as the colorful and famed Boracay sunset — but not overly zealous in selling their wares. Now, even the taho vendor had sad eyes because life on the island, sans the normal influx of tourists, was hard.

According to Sacdalan, around 15,000 to 18,000 tourists will visit Boracay in the summer months.

“If we can hit a thousand or more arrivals in a day from NCR and Western Visayas, it will give a big boost to our struggling economy,” Graf said.

Sacdalan and Graf are hopeful the foreigners will come, especially the European tourists.

“We are happy that people in Europe are getting ahead with the vaccination. As soon as majority of the Europeans are vaccinated, we are sure that they will come to Boracay. This is their favorite destination,” Sacdalan said.

Twenty percent of tourist arrivals in Boracay are Europeans, said Sacdalan. The Chinese comprise 40 percent.

He has fears, however, that when Filipinos get the jab, they, too, will go abroad. He hopes Filipinos will continue to patronize local tourist destinations.

Sacdalan and Graf are confident their beloved Boracay will bounce back.

(For more info, call the 24/7 Boracay hotline 0968-2431919 and 0927-4392343.)

(E-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend.)

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