BORACAY ISLAND -- Since the coronavirus pandemic led to a trickle in tourist arrivals, massage therapist Razel Alvarez spends most of her day waiting for clients on a near empty beachfront instead of relieving tired bodies with hot stones and honey.
On lucky days, Alvarez will get P300 for a package that costs P700 to P1,500, and like many in the tourist island that are still reeling from the 6-month shutdown 2 years ago, the disease is another financial blow.
As of March 10, Boracay saw its daily tourist arrivals halved to 2,417 compared to 5,227 on the same day last year, data from the Malay Municipal Tourism Office showed. On Sunday, a Metro Manila quarantine will restrict domestic travel to and from the capital region.
"Mahirap na talaga ngayon kasi swertihan na lang ba kung may magpamasahe kasi ang dami din namin dito na nag-aagawan ng customer," she told ABS-CBN News.
(It’s difficult to sustain now because it’s like depending on luck on whether someone would ask about a massage. Another problem is many of us here are competing for customers.)
"Maswerte na talaga ako minsan kung may maiuwi akong kwarta sa isang araw. Nakakatakot kasi di ko alam ano mangyari dahil sa corona[virus] na iyan,” she said.
(I’m really lucky if I could bring home money in a day. It’s scary because you don’t know what will happen because of that coronavirus.)
Since news of COVID-19 and Christmas storm Ursula hit the island last year, Boracay has seen a drop in tourist arrivals to 103,834 in February from 167,070 in January. Year-on-year, tourist arrivals in February dropped by 40 percent.
"Parang kalamidad ba, kasi nagsara kami nung rehab tapos binagyo, ngayon naman itong corona[virus] na ito. Hindi ko alam, ipinapasa-Diyos ko na lang,” Alvarez said.
(It’s like a calamity because there was a closure during the rehabilitation and then a storm, and now this coronavirus. I don’t know, I just leave it to God.)
Boracay took a hit from the temporary ban on inbound travel from China, and a partial travel restriction on South Korea—it’s main foreign market. Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat had said the government would compensate for lost foreign arrivals with local tourists.
Philippine tourism lost about P14.8 billion in February, as travelers postpone travel plans due to fears of contracting the virus, the Department of Tourism reported.
DISCOUNTS FOR SUSTAINABILITY
The drop in tourist arrivals prompted airlines, government-accredited hotels, and tour operators to slash their prices by as much as 70 percent to encourage domestic travel.
“We’re finding ways to sustain [tourism] and we’re making a strategy so that one way or another, there are still tourists coming in to Boracay,” said Felix Delos Santos Jr, chief tourism operations officer of Malay town that includes Boracay.
“Right now, our focus is just to ensure that there are still tourists coming in. We want to show that Boracay is safe for their activities,” he said.
Local businesses in the island have lowered prices just to survive. A usual dinner buffet priced at P990 can now be had for P790. Water sports activities were discounted by as much as 40 percent with jet ski rides priced at P1,500 from P2,500.
Those who did not cut prices shortened operating hours and lessened worker shifts.
WORST HAS YET TO COME?
With more cases of COVID-19 expected in the coming days, President Rodrigo Duterte canceled a scheduled visit to Boracay that was meant to encourage domestic tourism.
“Mag-lockdown pa nga daw kaya wala, ipapa sa Diyos mo na lang talaga kasi ano naman gagawin mo kung di na talaga magpunta ang mga turista?” Alvarez said.
( I heard about the lockdown so now, I’m leaving it to God because what will I do if the tourists really don’t want to come?)
The Philippines has so far confirmed 52 cases of the disease, including 5 fatalities since the virus was first reported back in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December 2020.
“It’s sad that this is happening but we have to remain optimistic because it’s not just Boracay or the Philippines, it’s a global thing,” chief tourism operations officer Delos Santos said.
“For now, our focus is just to ensure that those who are here and still choose to go here, see the beauty of Boracay and maybe they could tell other people that it’s okay and safe to go here,” he said.