CAB mulls lifting moratorium on new flights to Boracay amid trade backlash

The number of visitors to Boracay (pictured) are strictly monitored

Update: An earlier version of the headline was incorrect. It has since been amended.  

The Philippines’ Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) is studying the lifting of a moratorium on new and additional scheduled and chartered flights to Boracay, following strong objection from tour operators, hotels and resorts over what they say was the lack of consultation with the industry and the resultant loss of millions of dollars from the move.

On June 11, CAB advised carriers of the immediate moratorium on “all new and/or additional scheduled and charter flights to Kalibo and Caticlan airports, including new and/or additional flights approved for IATA summer season 2019” and “approvals and further processing of charter flights Kalibo and Caticlan will be held in abeyance until further notice”.

The number of visitors to Boracay (pictured) are strictly monitored

Yesterday, CAB air operating rights division chief, Eldric Paul Peredo, said that the moratorium was imposed “because of big spike in arrival numbers (in Boracay) particularly in April, surpassing the daily tourist entry limit of 6,405 pax”.

Peredo said the Malay Tourism office reported that tourist arrivals on the island averaged about 7,400 per day in April up to mid-May.

The CAB is studying the possibility of lifting the moratorium, taking into account the tourist traffic in Boracay while meeting with some of the island’s biggest airline operators and stakeholders, including a meeting with the Philippine Hotel Owners Association this week.

“If circumstances are better and there is no overtourism, we will lift the moratorium,” Peredo told TTG Asia.

An industry stakeholder complained that the chartered flights, mainly from China and South Korea, have already been finalised, guaranteed and paid for by charter operators while travel agencies have already sealed the deals for blocked bookings in hotels and resorts, with many of these bookings already paid for.

The temporary ban on these flights therefore is costing them millions of dollars in losses as they cannot just cancel the bookings, especially as the ban takes place during lean season in Boracay, making it difficult to find other tourists to take on the booked rooms.

Teody Espallardo, director of sales and marketing, Altabriza Resort Boracay, said these transactions are already forecast in the hotels’ expected income for the year. Espallardo said he didn’t charge the travel agents for the cancelled bookings but will offset it into their next bookings.

JP Cabalza, inbound manager, Corporate International Travel and Tours, highlighted said the need for a “dialogue” between all stakeholders as balancing the need to protect the environment versus tourist arrivals is complicated.

From the beginning of the island’s rehabilitation, the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force and the Department of Tourism (DoT) had been urging for a reduction in flights as part of the efforts to maintain the island’s carrying capacity.

CAB said however that none of the airlines volunteered to reduce the number of flights.

But stakeholders maintained that they should have been consulted and prepared for in the implementation of the moratorium by the DoT, especially as secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat sits on the CAB board. Investors’ interests have to be protected also, including new hotels and resorts that have invested millions of dollars in the island.

There were some ruffled feathers when the moratorium issue was brought up during the DoT’s stakeholders meeting on June 26, sources said.

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