The world-famous White Beach on Boracay Island, at 3PM, October 1, 2020. Image by Freida Dario-Santiago
Travel Destinations

Scenes from the Boracay reopening: 35 tourists and a relatively empty White Beach

The island could have accommodated 2,000 but only 35 tourists arrived on Day 1 
ANCX Staff | Oct 02 2020

The island would have been able to accommodate at least 2,000 tourists, according to pre-October 1 estimates. The hotels, after all, have been given license to operate at 50 percent capacity—while allowing only two guests to share a room. Speaking to Teleradyo, Malay town Mayor Frolibar Bautista said, “Maganda ang Boracay kasi nagpahinga siya nang for how many months.” The beach water is cleaner now, he added. 

But at yesterday’s reopening of Boracay, only a total of 35 tourists arrived, coming in by air, land and sea—DOT Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat confirms to ANCX. According to a CNN report, of the arrivals 7 were from Manila, 14 from Cebu, and 5 from around Aklan. ABS-CBN News Thursday reported that Philippine Airlines moved its initial Boracay reopening flight last minute to Sunday, October 4, citing no reason for the postponement.  

Reopening day sunset. Photo from DOT

“I’m glass half full. Mabuti na yung paunti-paunti muna para we can test the protocols,” Secretary Puyat told reporter Jeff Canoy yesterday, commenting on the turnout. “And I’m expecting mas dadami yung tao sa undas.” 

“Konti lang talaga tao and all are locals or locally based foreigners,” said a guest who arrived in the island October 1. “So many shops had closed down that it’s really dark at night. Hotel prices have gone down kasi mahal yung swab test, which seems like the main detterent for people wanting to go here.”

“In a nutshell, it was ‘anticlimactic,’” says Freida Dario-Santiago, editor in chief of the island’s Boracay Sun News. “Aside from the security forces in full force, White Beach by Station 1 at mid-afternoon was relatively empty.” 

The cleanup drive to prepare for reopening. Photo from Department of Tourism.

As longtime resident of Boracay (she moved to the island in 2003), Santiago wishes nothing but good things for this reopening. She acknowledges DOT’s “slow but sure” approach and hopes that arrivals will eventually pick up. 

“But I also feel that there is so much room for improvement in terms of the new guidelines,” Santiago shares. She mentions the provincial Executive Order No. 037, issued September 30, the day before the reopening. She describes it as “understandably cautious and erring on the safe side” but points out the “few discouraging ‘buzzkills’ that are not only off-putting for tourists but make it difficult for business owners to swallow.” 

These include, says Santiago, 1) the required RT-PCR tests that may have been too expensive for the local traveler, and 2) requiring the employees working in the island to have RT-PCR tests once every four weeks—which might be too costly especially for people who had just come out of months in lockdown. 

It’s understandable many tourists would rather wait it out—until restrictions ease up and tests hopefully get cheaper. We imagine it’s the same stance some businesses in the island are taking—stay closed instead of, as Santiago says, spending more than what they expect to profit. 

Still, the editor believes reopening was a huge step in the right direction. “And I’m confident it will get better, and more balanced between safety and the economy.” 

Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores said in an interview with CNN Friday morning that he expected Day 1’s low turnout. “As you know we have very stringent rules and regulations for travelers,” he said, adding the factor that people still do have a fear of travel. But the government, he said, is hopeful the confidence to travel will be restored as the weeks and months pass. Right now he is just grateful that the DOT granted the province’s request to reopen Boracay. “Aklan depends solely on tourism and we have to take care of 20,000 workers who have been out of jobs,” he said.