Fewer tourists visit Guimaras after sea mishaps
ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — The tourism industry of Guimaras, a major economic driver of the province, is on a slump following last month’s sea accidents and restrictions on motorboat operations.
From Aug. 4 to 31, tourist arrivals on the island dropped by 73 percent compared to the same period last year, according to Liberty Ferrer, Guimaras tourism officer.
Ferrer said group tours and conferences had been canceled due mostly to safety concerns and lack of assurance of availability of transportation from Iloilo City.
Guimaras, known for its sweet mangoes and pristine beaches, is popular for island-hopping and can be reached after a 15-minute boat ride from Iloilo City.
Three passenger motorboats capsized in Iloilo Strait, the body of water separating Iloilo City and Guimaras Island, on Aug. 3 after the boats were hit by strong winds.
Thirty-one passengers of motorboats Chi-Chi and Jenny Vince died while 52 passengers and 13 crew members survived the worst accident in Iloilo Strait in recent memory.
Trips of motorboats, the main form of transportation to and from the island, were suspended for nearly two weeks after the accidents. The trips were restored but these were heavily regulated and monitored.
Residents have also complained of fewer motorboats, resulting in longer waiting time for passengers.
Guimaras residents, led by Hugpong Guimarasnon, have held prayer rallies and other protest actions against the travel restrictions as many were forced to take fastcraft vessels and pay P80 per trip, which was higher than the P15 fare charged by motorboat operators.
They were also protesting the policy being implemented by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority limiting travel of motorboats from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and requiring operators to roll up or remove tarpaulin covers that protect passengers from the heat and rain.
Authorities said the tarpaulin covers could have caused the accidents, noting that the boats could have tipped over and capsized after gusts hit the sheets.
On Sunday afternoon, Guimaras residents held a unity walk in the towns of Jordan and Buenavista to continuously appeal for the resumption of normal operations of motorboats.