Boracay’s iconic businesses can’t stop the bleeding
ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — Jose Carlos “Binggoy” Remedios has been operating Dos Mestizos restaurant, one of the most popular dining places on Boracay Island, for more than 20 years now.
But the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses on the resort island in Malay, Aklan, forced him to put his restaurant up for sale. “It is a very painful decision because this has been my home for many years. But if the [economic] situation here continues, the island will die,” he told the Inquirer.
Remedios said the prolonged travel and health restrictions, and minimal tourist arrivals had driven many business establishments to close or transfer to other areas. “If there is a good offer, I am ready to sell it if the situation does not improve soon,” he said.
Dos Mestizos, which specializes in Spanish-Filipino cuisine, is closed, but its deli and bakeshop continue serving customers. Remedios still maintains 10 staff members and he also paid P26,000 in electricity bills alone last month.
“The business has been good to me, especially since 10 years ago. But all our savings will be gone if we don’t earn soon,” he said.
Aside from restaurants, family-run resorts in Boracay have closed.
Boracay Beach Resort, one of popular beachfront resorts operated by the family of Malay Councilor Nenette Aguirre-Graf, stopped accepting guests in September after 17 years of operations.
Graf said the family could not sustain the resort after months of “bleeding” due to the pandemic, which worsened the impact of the six-month closure of the island to tourists in 2018 when it underwent rehabilitation.
Boracay reopened to tourists, initially from Western Visayas, on June 16, and from other areas on Oct. 1. But tourist arrivals have been minimal despite the big discounts on room rates offered by hotels.
From Oct. 1 to Oct. 29, records showed 2,337 tourists coming in, including 1,421 from Metro Manila. But those from Iloilo province only accounted for 77, while the rest are mostly residents of Aklan.
On Oct. 29, 294 tourists, including 264 from Metro Manila, came, the highest single-day arrival since Oct. 1. But this was still way below the average daily tourist arrivals of between 4,000 and 5,000 before the pandemic struck in March.
Scrap swab test
Business owners have blamed the requirement for a negative real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result for tourists going to Boracay.
They complained that test results’ validity period of 48 hours before the actual trip and the testing cost, from P4,000 to as much as P12,000, had discouraged tourists from going to the island. The RT-PCR validity period was later extended to 72 hours.
In a meeting led by Gov. Florencio Miraflores, Rep. Teodorico Haresco Jr. and acting Malay Mayor Frolibar Bautista last week, local officials and business owners agreed to pass separate resolutions asking the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) to scrap the RT-PCR test requirement for tourists.
“We agreed to formally ask the BIATF to scrap the RT-PCR test requirement as this has discouraged more tourists from going to the island,” Bautista said.
He said that aside from requiring the submission of health declarations and temperature checks, strict enforcement of basic health protocols, such as the wearing of a mask, physical distancing and personal hygiene, would be enforced in Boracay.
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