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Boracay pioneers hit hard by COVID-19

Longtime business owners in Aklan resort island see no light at tunnel’s end
By: - Correspondent / @nestorburgosINQ
/ 04:17 AM September 01, 2020

‘GHOST TOWN’ A business owner likens Boracay Island to a “ghost town” as tourists, who normally crowd its beaches and beachfront establishments, have not returned to the resort island after travel and leisure activities are halted by the pandemic. —JACK JARILLA

ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — As the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to batter the tourism industry, several businesses, including the oldest stores and restaurants on Boracay Island, have decided to shut their doors for good.

Nautilus Boracay, a resort lifestyle clothing store at D’Mall commercial plaza put up 20 years ago, will cease operations.
“I resign. Fifty percent of the [small and medium enterprises]in the country are already closing their businesses for good. Count me in,” said store owner and international designer PJ Arañador in a Facebook post.

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Arañador said he had been losing millions of pesos in fixed costs, including payment of employees’ salaries in advance.

“We pay rentals and utilities in a ghost town now. Our market is nowhere clear in sight. The [arrival of] local tourists projected by end of this year will not support it, even give it another two years,” he said.

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Arañador said that even before the pandemic, businesses were reeling from the six-month closure of the island to tourists from April 26 to Oct. 25, 2018.

Market change

“We asked the government to close the island by phases so [micro, small and medium enterprises] may live, by shifts, but [President] Duterte closed the entire house when the damage was only in the kitchen,” he said in his post.

Arañador said the impact of the closure and lockdown had also been worsened by the change of tourism market due to the thrust to attract the low-end tourism market, mainly from China.

“In Boracay, now we say it is like a dark tunnel without a light at the end,” he said.

A pioneer restaurant in Boracay, Truefood Indian Cuisine, is also closing due partly to the pandemic. The restaurant was put up in 1990.

According to Tina Occhionero, the restaurant’s general manager, they are closing down because the lease on the beachfront property, where the restaurant operates, will expire soon.

She said the plan to relocate the restaurant remained uncertain due to the lack of tourists.

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Businesses on the 1,032-hectare island are dependent on tourists, but the nearly six months of travel restrictions and health concerns have crippled the island’s economy.

More tourists

Boracay was reopened to tourists from Western Visayas (comprising the provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo and Negros Occidental) on June 16. But only 1,303 tourists, mostly from Iloilo, visited the island as of Aug. 13, a far cry from the average 3,000 to 5,000 daily arrivals before the pandemic struck.

Aklan officials and Boracay business owners have asked the national government to allow tourists from other provinces and countries with low numbers of COVID-19 cases to visit.

Provincial administrator Selwyn Ibarreta, head of the provincial technical working group, said they asked the Boracay Inter-¬Agency Task Force, through Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, to allow more tourists on the island starting Oct. 1.

“We need to help the business owners and residents of the island. Even their savings are gone,” Ibaretta told the Inquirer.
Arañador said he would transfer his store to his hometown in Iloilo. “Many fellow business owners, including expatriates, are thinking of doing the same to survive. Some have left the island already,” he said.

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TAGS: Boracay pioneers, Boracay tourism, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, travel restrictions
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