With the impending closure of the country’s top summer destination Boracay, local and foreign tourists are scrambling to rebook flights or scrap hotel accomodations, airlines authorities said on Sunday.
Major airlines in the Philippines are now mounting additional flights to other popular tourist destinations to recover the expected revenue losses from the planned six-month closure of Boracay, described as the third largest airline market in the country after Manila and Cebu.
Some airlines and hotels have expressed readiness to waive rebooking and cancellation fees for tourists who have already booked their flights and stay in Boracay, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said.
Once the island has been closed on April 26, local and foreign tourists will no longer be allowed to enter the island.
But the Tourism chief clarified that tourists who are already in Boracay and are booked past the date of the island resort’s closure will not be asked to leave and will be allowed to stay for the duration of their booking.
Workers who will be displaced by the six-month closure will be given financial assistance and temporary work by the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Public Works and Highways.
The departments of Tourism, Labor and Employment and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority will also provide training for the residents and displaced workers.
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the closure of Boracay based on the recommendation of the DoT, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
The three departments came up with the recommendation after Duterte ordered them to clean the “cesspool” that is Boracay in February.
A police contingent from the Visayas has been tasked to help enforce the closure effective April 26, 2018.
Airlines are reducing flights ahead of the six-month shutdown of Boracay.
“Effective April 20, we are reducing our flights—52 to Kalibo and 42 to Caticlan—to just nine weekly flights to Kalibo and seven weekly flights to Caticlan,” said Jessica Abaya, PAL chief customer experience office.
“But what we are doing is we are adding flights to other destinations. Flights to Bacolod, Iloilo, Cebu and Puerto Princesa effective April 20. Soon after that, we will be adding flights from Cebu to Busuanga, Clark to Cebu, Clark to Busuanga, and even flights from Manila to Dumaguete and Manila to Cagayan de Oro,” added Abaya.
She also said “We are optimistic that with this additional [domestic] that we are deploying, especially to the bigger cities like Cebu, we will more than recover, fully recover the expected revenues from Bocaray.”
Without giving figures of the projected revenue losses, Abaya described it as “short-term hit.”
“It’s gonna be six months but what we really like to do is to encourage the people to rediscover other summer destination just as beautiful as Boracay,” she said.
Abaya admitted that Boracay is one of airline’s top summer destination. “But year round, our top city destinations are Cebu and Davao.”
Abaya said PAL is in full support with the government’s intention to make Boracay fully safe and environmentally friendly.
AirAsia also made changes to its flight schedule in line with the government order to temporarily close Boracay for rehabilitation from April 26 to Oct. 26.
“During this period, AirAsia will temporarily suspend/reduce Caticlan (MPH) and Kalibo (KLO) flights,” the airline said in a statement.
In order not to disrupt their guests’ holiday plans, AirAsia officials also announced they will be mounting additional flights to popular leisure destinations such as Palawan, Bohol, Cebu, and Davao.
Cebu Pacific chief information officer Ma. Rosario Lagamon told Manila Standard that the airline is expecting to minimize the impact on its bottomline by redeploying capacity to other routes to between 2 to 5 percent.
“Our priority is to be able to help passengers who would be affected by the closure of Boracay,” she said.
According to Sydney-based aviation industry group CAPA (Centre for Aviation), Boracay market is served with nearly 40 daily flights.
CAPA stated that Boracay attracts approximately two million annual visitors, close to half of which are foreigners. It also stated the total visitor numbers to the Philippines reached 6.6 million in 2017, following three years of double digit growth, but with the closure of Boracay the Philippines will struggle to meet its 7.4 million visitor target for 2018.
“Philippines tourism authorities will need to invest heavily in marketing alternative tourist destinations, and work closely with the impacted airlines, to avoid a decline in overall visitor numbers,” CAPA stated.
“Visitor numbers to Boracay still increased by 7% in Mar-2018, to 172,000. However, a six month closure means the island will likely only attract 1 million total visitors this year, compared to approximately 2 million in 2017 (includes domestic tourists).”
“Approximately 1 million (15%) of the 6.6 million overseas visitors to the Philippines in 2017 stopped in Boracay. The island’s growing popularity has contributed to three consecutive years of double digit visitor growth to the Philippines.”
The group also stated that Boracay is popular with Chinese and South Korean visitors, which are the largest source markets for the Philippines tourism industry. Chinese visitor numbers to the Philippines increased by 43% in 2017, to nearly 1 million, and South Korean visitor numbers were up 9%, to 1.6 million.
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