Trade scrambles to manage bookings with Boracay’s impending closure

Questions such as how long the closure would last hang overhead for tourism players in the country

With just a month to go before Boracay’s closure, the travel trade is bemoaning the lack of details on the government’s drastic decision that will heavily impinge on business and the Philippines’ economy.

The government has been shutting down establishments found violating the law and environmental regulations, but the Department of Environment and Natural Resources last week recommended the full closure of the island to give sufficient time for an undisrupted cleanup, according to media reports.

Questions such as how long the closure would last hang overhead for tourism players in the country

Christine Ibarreta, president, Hotel Sales and Marketing Association (HSMA), said Boracay stakeholders should be made aware of the details of the plan “they have to manage bookings that will be displaced during the period covered either for change of booking dates or relocation of guests to other resorts together with their booking partners, travel agents or conference organisers”.

They also have to “manage manpower leaves, relocate to sister properties or others, (make) provisions for the duration of the closure” as well as inform the market on changes.

Hotels, in addition, have to draw up operation plans to mitigate the adverse effects of the shutdown – including drop in revenue, displaced workers and inconvenienced business partners.

One area the trade wants clarification on is whether Boracay will be closed for two or six months, or a year. “All these (questions) are hanging over our heads,” said Mary Ann Ong, general manager of Luxus Pacific Travel and Tours specialising in inbound from China, the island’s biggest foreign market next to South Korea.

While chartered flights from China have not been cancelled, they are likely to be diverted to other destinations in the country or abroad like Phuket, Pattaya or the Maldives once Boracay is closed. It will be difficult for these flights to return to Boracay if they are dealt good business in other countries, Ong warned.

Sharp Travel Service no longer accepts bookings to Boracay on the dates likely to be covered by the island’s shutdown, said tour operations manager Benjie Bernal.

Marjorie Aquino, senior sales and marketing manager, Blue Horizons Travel and Tours, revealed that the company has blocked FIT bookings and back-to-back blockings for certain seasons affected by Boracay’s shutdown.

She said that declaring Boracay under the state of calamity and shutting it down, as announced by the government, will fall under force majeure. Travel agencies will refund passengers who paid their bookings. If the agencies have already paid the hotels for the bookings, the amount will become credit rate for future use.

Cruise tourism in Boracay, the second most popular cruise destination in the Philippines after Manila, is expected to be affected by the closure as ships with scheduled sailings to the destination will now have to look for alternatives, remarked Travel Experts consultant Arnie Bayag.

The trade fears Boracay’s closure will tar the Philippines’ image as a beach destination. At the recent ITB Berlin, for instance, a participant noted the last-minute changes in the Philippines booth, replacing Boracay on the photo wall with mountains.

The same happened at the recent Seatrade Cruise Global expo in Florida when Boracay was not featured in the photo wall of the Philippines booth.

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