By Charlie Greene
The latest announcement from the Department of Tourism (DOT) that hotels can soon operate at a 100 percent capacity is a welcome sign, but how many actually want to open fully and have to take on full scale staff responsibilities, is another matter.
The few that are already open under the 50 percent capacity ruling, are lucky if they can attain 10 percent of the 50 percent occupancy rates under the present circumstances. Some that opened their doors on a trial basis (in hope), quickly closed down as it was more cost effective to stay closed than open.
Let’s not forget that bars are officially still not allowed to operate. Almost all restaurants have remained closed since March, and the majority of the touristy shops and outlets in d’mall and along the beachfront are still boarded up. Which aside from being sad and non productive, gives the appearance of an old ghost town in black and white TV Western movies.
The restaurants and hotels that were brave enough to stay open are only allowed to sell customers two drinks per person, and the social distancing procedures make their dining areas look like empty amusement parks – all glitter, but not much else. Customer serving areas are hidden behind sheets of plastic, and staff are few and far between, which obviously affects customer service. Many have cut back on their menu choices – why carry an extensive inventory if you only have a few customers each day…
Boracay has had two official ‘openings’ so far this year. June 1st saw the Island becoming available to visitors from the Western Visayas, alas, the numbers never got out of double figures. And the great ‘second wave’ (excuse the pun) was expected when the Island opened up to tourists from across the national capital region and most of the country on October 1.
Sadly, the numbers remain a little disappointing, to say the least. The expensive and unpleasant swab tests appear to be the main obstacle. Visitors need to jump through several hoops before they even book a ticket. No more are the decisions for a nice weekend away made on a Friday lunchtime. Swab test results are not given within a few hours, and the procedure of obtaining quick response (QR) codes and registering everything is somewhat cumbersome for many people. The fees for such range from Pesos 5,000-12,000 - multiply that by the number in your party (mum, dad and three kids), and it can amount to more than the cost of your flights and accommodation.
When a tourist finally arrives, what is available for them?
A nightly curfew, restricted swimming locations and hours, very few dining options, little or no entertainment, and Malay Auxiliary Police (MAP) officers ordering them to pull up their face masks while walking along an empty beach. Most dive shops and water sports facilities are still not operational, and there’s not a paraw or banca in sight to take you out for a much famed sunset view. Not exactly ideal for a long awaited, and now expensive few days holiday at the country’s No.1 tourist destination.
What I fail to understand also, is why each local government unit (LGU) make decisions that differ from the national government. I know these are just directives from above, but being such, one would have thought that the national would have more experts advising them, than those at local do. So why are some areas prone to what many are now calling unnecessary lockdowns and restrictions, and others are not. Many rules seem to change on a daily basis.
A case in example is Iloilo. Before October 1, visitors from Iloilo to Boracay could freely enter the island. For some strange reason (there was no sudden overnight spike in virus cases) they now have to take swab tests – why? What changed so much that a massive decision affecting thousands had to be implemented with no explainable reason. We are trying to attract tourists, right? Not turn them away without cause. I heard from reliable sources that 70 confirmed bookings from Ilolio for the first week in October were quickly cancelled when the swab test decision was announced.
If Boracay, and the rest of Philippine tourism stands any chance of resuming in the near future, a serious and informed look at these swab tests and other restrictive measures needs to be taken. The DOT, LGU and Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) keep stating their intentions to help communities get back to work safely, but the current situations that businesses and tourists have to endure are making everyone’s efforts doomed to failure.
Long suffering Boracay residents and businesses deserve some answers, and even more so, some help to overcome the travesties that have befallen them over the past couple of years.
Many of our buildings were demolished (some say illegally) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) during the enforced six month closure; which also saw thousands lose their income, and the Christmas Day typhoon didn’t help, and now the government lockdown policies have caused bankruptcies and closed businesses that have resulted in tens of thousands of job losses on the island.
As a business owner on Boracay, I often feel like there’s a ”you and us” barrier between businesses and the government. This of course shouldn’t be the case. We need regular positive dialogue so that problems encountered, on both sides, can be amicably resolved instead of driving wedges between us. As mentioned before, the DENR fiasco, and now Covid problems, certainly hasn’t helped to mend old wounds. Conflict between the two is like waving a red flag at a bull.
So, I appeal to the powers that be to give us all some hope as this year comes to a close. Please, review some of your decisions again, take expert, proven, solid advice from professionals before making life changing decisions for others. Consult with business owners and the community as a whole so that we can all move forward and get ourselves out of this miserable bloody mess.