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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Bora is back in business

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Tourism is really a function of a good product made accessible and affordable (infrastructure), and product promotion

It’s always nice to write about something good.

Times like these, it comes as a breath of fresh air to know that Boracay is back in business.

I spent most of the past week in Boracay, together with some members of the family and a European guest, wondering before we left Manila how the fabled tourist island now fares.

The last time I went there was a quick visit for the wedding of Ren-ren Cayetano and his bride at the Shangri-la in 2016.

The year after, Pres. Duterte closed the island to visitors to do urgent rehabilitation, as the coliform levels in the main beach had increased to dangerous proportions.

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The sewage water treatment facility which the Philippine Tourism Authority completed during my watch in Pres. Estrada’s time (though formally inaugurated under Pres. GMA) needed upgrading of the sewer pipes because the island’s normal carrying capacity had been breached by so many establishments, in a helter-skelter, absolutely un-planned “development.”

That draconian decision which I initially criticized produced many discoveries, the most blatant violation being the Malay government’s unbridled spree of permits even if the hotel or resort failed to connect to the now Ayala-managed water treatment facility.

Images on television about huge hotels with multi-million capital expenditures disgorging their detritus into the beach through pipes concealed beneath the sand justified the president’s decision to close the island.

DPWH and TIEZA were thus able to first, widen the road traversing the southern part in Manoc-Manoc to Station 1 in the north, and retro-fit the sewage pipes from the white beach area to the sludge treatment facility, and then to Bulabog where the treated water, now clean, was emptied far from the shoreline.

One particular improvement I noticed was the road widening into two lanes which included the expropriation of a stubborn landowner’s protruding property in the narrow Station 1 area.

For far too long, the Malay local government was unable to get the landowner to give way to the road widening.

The road construction stops though as one reaches the uphill part leading to Station Zero where hotels like Crimson, Movenpick and Shangri-la are located.

Residents say that the construction stopped during the COVID lockdowns and has not been resumed since. Maybe Sec. Manny Bonoan would want to prioritize this?

One other nice development was the widening of the beach frontage in Station 1 particularly, the width of which is less than those of Stations 2 and 3.

As a result, the violating hotels and resorts have had to either close down and be demolished, or their properties sliced in half to conform to the easement regulations.

Another is that trikes and regulated public transport facilities in the island are electrically operated, thereby lessening the smoke-belching.

I still hate the fact that the local government allowed the building of mini-malls with concrete superstructures which house the usual brands you see all over the country.

Had Boracay’s development been designed properly with a master plan when Pres. Cory took over, at a time when the island was kept pristine because it was the “private” playground of Pres. Marcos Sr. and his entitled friends, and not left to the local government which was interested only in hefty incomes from permits and property taxes, Boracay could have been such a beautiful community with a common architectural theme evocative of tropical island life.

But, no use crying over the undone.

We should thank Pres. FVR and Pres. Estrada for infrastructure improvements that increased the carrying capacity of the island and provided fresh water from the Nabas River in mainland Aklan, the visitor’s processing center, even the conversion of Kalibo’s airport into an international terminal with a lengthened runway.

And Pres. GMA for the bulldozing of a hill that prevented Caticlan from having a longer runway that has made visiting Boracay a faster and more convenient adventure, thanks to Ramon Ang’s PPP.

I also noticed the improvement in NAIA’s Terminal 2 where we boarded our PAL flight to Boracay on time.

Procedures were much faster, especially with the removal of the luggage pre-inspection X-ray, an obvious redundancy, something I likewise experienced in NAIA 1 when I flew to Taipei last March.

Caticlan’s arrival and departure areas were likewise a cinch, although I understand a new and bigger terminal is being constructed.

Our return trip, without the runway traffic in Caticlan, arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Tourists have started flocking to the white powdery sands of Bora.

Our inbound PAL plane was full, with what I would estimate to be 80 percent domestic travelers and 20 percent foreign visitors, mostly Korean and Europeans.

At the Movenpick where we stayed, the ratio is about 60 percent foreign visitors and less domestic travelers, although many of these were really balikbayans and therefore counted as foreigners by the DOT and immigration if they already took foreign citizenship.

It was my first time to stay at the Movenpick, now managed very professionally by France’s Accor Group which also operates Sofitel, Mercure, Novotel, Ibis and other hotel brands known worldwide for efficiency and high standards.

The hotel is highly recommended, with a huge swimming pool and nice tropical gardens dividing the four-story lodging areas from the wide, white sand beach. It is truly good value for money.

Over at Stations 1 and 2 where most of the restaurants and boutique hotels are located, one is happy to note that domestic tourism is still upbeat, with revenge travel likely fueling it.

In times of economic recession, it is really domestic travel that saves our tourism.

I wish though that the DOT and the local government could somehow streamline the crowded areas without losing its happy ambience.

Sec. Frasco arrived in the island last Friday afternoon for a look-see and a conference with tourism stakeholders.

Two of the urgent requests include provision for clean public restrooms (make sure the maintenance is done well) and a hyperbaric chamber for scuba divers in the Bulabog side and the northern parts facing Romblon.

Tourism is really a function of a good product made accessible and affordable (infrastructure), and product promotion.

Boracay needs no further promotion in the world market, but tourism infrastructure needs upgrading and business regulations strictly enforced.

Still and all, Boracay is back in business, and hopefully, other Philippine natural tourist destinations like Palawan, Siargao, the Montanosa and the Visayas which are truly tropical Asia’s best.

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