Boracay folk seek aid as tourism slumps
ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — Some residents and workers on Boracay Island are appealing for economic assistance after tourist arrivals significantly dropped amid the new coronavirus outbreak that started in China.
Vendors and those relying on tourists for their livelihood said their earnings dropped to at least 50 percent since travel restrictions were implemented and as tourists shelved plans to go to Boracay and other local destinations.
“Pa-swerte swerte na lang (We just rely on luck),” said Maureen Tapican, one of the coordinators of We Are Boracay, a group of market and souvenir vendors, tour guides, masseuses, tricycle drivers and workers in establishments serving tourists on the island in Malay town, Aklan province.
Tapican said it had been difficult selling seafood along the island’s main beach as Chinese tourists were among their main customers.
“Everybody is affected, including tricycle drivers,” she said.
Leave without pay
Filipino workers employed in Chinese restaurants were also told to go on leave without pay as the establishments stopped operations when flights from China, Hong Kong and Macau were indefinitely suspended as part of efforts to contain the outbreak which originated in Wuhan City in China’s Hubei province.
Of the 1,032,619 foreign tourists who visited Boracay last year, nearly half, or 434,175 tourists, were from China.
The economic impact of the decline in tourist arrivals extends to the entire province of Aklan, including in the capital town of Kalibo, where restaurants and hotels also reported cancellation of bookings and low occupancy due to the travel restrictions.
“It would be a big help if the government could assist us, especially [by providing us] rice and food assistance like what they did during the closure,” Tapican said.
She was referring to the six-month closure of the island to tourists in 2018 for an environmental rehabilitation. Thousands of employees and informal workers were affected by the closure from April to October that year.
In some hotels that relied heavily on the Chinese market, room occupancy reached only 10 percent.
The Department of Health in Western Visayas said 36 of 37 persons under investigation (PUIs) for the new coronavirus (also called COVID-19) had tested negative for the infection and had been discharged from hospitals in the region. The test result for the remaining PUI had yet to be released.
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