WHILE they agree that Boracay badly needs to be rehabilitated, tourism stakeholders believe that closing the island to tourists is not the only solution.
Alice Queblatin, president of Cebu Alliance of Tour Operations Specialists (Catos), yesterday said she’s hoping that both public and private stakeholders would arrive at a win-win solution in addressing the issue.
Boracay, according to Queblatin, is one of the most desired destinations in the country and closing it would pose a challenge to tour operators, especially to those who have confirmed reservations with them for the rest of the year.
She said transferring their guests wouldn’t be that easy as it would involve time, availability of airline seats and hotel rooms in other areas, and cost of package in alternate destinations.
Queblatin emphasized that closing the island would also be unfair to those establishments that have complied with laws.
“We know Boracay has to be repaired and restored but there are hotels that are compliant and doing business right. It seems unfair if they, too, will be closed,” said Queblatin, also owner of Southwinds Travel and Tours.
“If it is doable, we recommend that these hotels and resorts be allowed to continue operation, while the rest of the island is being fixed,” she added.
Ricky Tio, past president of Network of Independent Travel and Allied Services Philippines (Nitas)-Cebu, shared the sentiment, saying closing the island is not the only solution as this would greatly affect tourism businesses and the arrival of foreign tourists. He favors that concerned parties meet halfway, as some players in the island have been taking initiatives to help save Boracay.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has recommended the closure of Boracay for a maximum of one year to allow its rehabilitation and recovery from its environmental woes.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said the closure would pave the way for the implementation of measures that would restore Boracay as a prime tourist destination.
“Task Force Boracay is doing its job to protect the environment. Properties should be working with the local goverment and follow guidelines,” said Carlo Suarez, president of Hotels, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu (HRRAC).
He added that it is about time that everyone unites to bring back the healthy state of the island to sustain the country’s tourism industry.
Suarez said there may be guest cancellations but he hopes losses would be offset by guests rerouting their plans to neighboring islands.
Suarez added that what is happening in Boracay now should serve as a wakeup call for everyone engaged in the tourism industry. He lauded the initiatives of authorities in Mactan for constantly inspecting properties, whether big or small, to be compliant with the laws.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) has called for nationwide support, particularly from the tourism sector and local government units, to promote alternative destinations as Boracay heals.
DOT Secretary Wanda Teo, in a statement, said the country is blessed with countless islands that similarly possess Boracay’s beauty, from its beaches and natural sites to its community.
Teo identified Samal Island in Davao, Siargao Island, Camiguin Island, Bohol, Cebu and Coron and El Nido in Palawan as alternate destinations for tourists.
“The Philippines’ emerging destinations are so diverse. Many are fast-becoming water sports hubs for scuba diving, deep-sea photography and surfing. Others offer family- oriented adventures at farm resorts and eco-parks, and still others provide wellness and spa services,” she said.
Moreover, the DOT is working closely with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to address the livelihood concerns of locals feared to be laid off as the island rehabilitates.
“We are aware of the situation of Boracay but we cannot just discount the thousands of employees and their families and the economic contribution of the island through its tourist receipts and job employment. We have to strike a balance between the environment and the economy,” said Teo, adding that they are already looking into alternative means of livelihood and employment for the community.
Some P56 billion in tourist receipts is at stake with the restoration of the island.
Boracay Island welcomed over two million local and foreign tourists last year, up by 16 percent from 2016.
According to the DOT, the island employed the most for the Western Visayas last year, with 17,737 direct tourism employment accounting for 66 percent of the whole region.