Boracay closure a challenge for tour operators

FOLLOWING Boracay’s approved closure for six months starting April 26, tour operators are faced with a bigger challenge--where to bring big groups this summer.

While the country has several destinations similar to Boracay, Cebu Alliance of Tour Operations Specialists (Catos) president Alice Queblatin said rebooking their accommodation to other island destinations will not be an easy task.

“The inevitable has happened and the whole industry, including Cebu stakeholders, are concerned on how to deal with clients who have to rebook accommodation in other island destinations. Cebu and Bohol resorts are almost full already for April and May,” said Queblatin.

She added Korean agents have expressed concerns on where to bring their guests who have paid for accommodation in various Boracay resort categories. Adding to the pressure is the unsure timeline of Boracay’s reopening (Oct. 26), which could affect future bookings of guests.

According to Queblatin, it is the big groups that they have difficulty rebooking because that would depend on the resorts’ number of rooms and date availability. Her agency, Southwinds Travel and Tours, has rebooked an incentive group of 130 people from Boracay to Mactan this May. They are awaiting rebooking confirmations of other groups.

“Although this is an individual concern and strategy of tour operators depending on the needs of their clients, Catos members are now helping each other identify which resorts and hotels have available rooms,” she said.

City hotels and resorts in Cebu are expecting a surge in bookings following Boracay’s closure.

“We are saddened by the closure of Boracay. However, this would also mean more tourists for Cebu and the other premier destinations in the Philippines,” said Carlo Suarez, president of Hotels, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu, adding that city hotels and resorts are now busy receiving transfer bookings from Boracay to Cebu and to Bohol through tour operators.

Suarez said t the summer season has already kicked in and that hotels and resorts are expecting a great number of visitors.

”We are currently enjoying 80 percent occupancy. With the Boracay closure, we expect occupancy levels to hit 100 percent. It would be a busy summer season for Cebu’s tourism,” he said.

The HRRAC official said establishments are putting effort in the cleanliness and maintenance of facilities in preparation for the arrival of the tourists. They are also in constant coordination with the government in helping ease the traffic situation in Cebu to make it easier for tourists to access the province’s attractions.

Airlines are also cutting down on flights.

Cebu Pacific (CEB) announced the cancellation of Caticlan and Kalibo flights following the Boracay closure from April 26 to Oct. 27. It will maintain some flights to serve local residents. Affected passengers may get a full refund, place the full value of the ticket in a travel fund for future use, rebook the flight, which is subject to seat availability, or reroute to any domestic destination, subject to seat availability.

Philippine Airlines also announced it adjusted its operations to support government’s decision.

“PAL will scale down its services to Caticlan and Kalibo for a six-month period beginning late April, and expand flights to a number of other Philippine tourist and provincial destinations during said period to help ensure the continued growth of domestic tourism,” said the airline.

It will operate nine weekly flights between Manila and Kalibo and seven weekly flights between Manila and Caticlan.

Starting April 20, PAL will deploy additional flights on routes between Manila and Cebu, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa and Bacolod. On April 26, it will increase flights between Cebu and Busuanga, Cebu and Siargao, and Clark and Busuanga. It will also add more flights between Cebu and Clark on April 28 and May 1 for routes between Manila and Dumaguete and Manila and Cagayan de Oro City.

Passengers of affected flights have the option to rebook, reroute, or refund with penalties and charges waived. Rerouting options cover both domestic and international airlines, said PAL.

Air Asia, for its part, will temporarily suspend or reduce some flights to Caticlan and Kalibo. Aside from domestic connections, Air Asia has flights connecting Kalibo to Pusan, Shanghai and Incheon.

“In order not to disrupt our guests’ holiday plans, Air Asia will be mounting additional flights to popular leisure destinations Palawan, Bohol, Cebu, and Davao in the Philippines.
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