BORACAY’S average daily tourist arrivals fell by more than 80% year-on-year to around 1,000 people in early March the wake of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, Tourism Undersecretary Arturo P. Boncato, Jr. said.

“Last year, average arrival per day 5,600, but almost the same number leave so we (did) not really breach carrying capacity. This time, start of March, that is really down to almost 1,000,” he told reporters on Thursday.

The Department of Tourism (DoT) monitors Boracay tourism numbers via the single port open to visitors.

The DoT strategy, Mr. Boncato said, is to improve destinations experiencing slowdowns pending the return of visitors.

“What we’re doing today is… making sure that when everything has been resolved, when you come back to Boracay, we have systems in place from the destination itself, to the medical services. Everything will be so much better than it used to.”

The department is working with the Makati Medical Center Foundation and the PLDT Smart Foundation to supply the island with satellite phones, pocket WiFi, and medical devices such as stethoscopes, oxygen regulators, and automatic sanitizer dispensers.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s plans to visit the island and speak with tourism stakeholders on Thursday were put on hold as the outbreak widened.

The DoT, in a statement Thursday, said it will announce a new schedule for the president’s visit as soon as the information is available.

“The safety and well-being of tourists, tourism frontliners and citizens remain the utmost priority of the DoT.”

Mr. Boncato said that the department is working with national government to form contingency plans in case the outbreak reaches the island.

“It’s not going to be exclusive to Boracay — it’s going to be a national contingency plan,” he said.

“When it comes to tourism, our primary task is to make sure to protect the welfare of our tourists. If they’re already here, we have a regional office, we have a Boracay office. We are in touch with the tourism enterprises. And one good thing about Boracay is that all those doing business for tourism are accredited by the department… in effect they follow the standard, they’re under our regulation, and they always support what the national government is doing.”

Meanwhile, the task force working on the rehabilitation of Boracay is currently on track, he said, with two more major projects not yet completed.

Mr. Boncato said the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, the infrastructure arm of the department, is investing in a drainage system.

“It’s done in parallel with the road network of DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways).”

The inter-agency task force on the rehabilitation of Boracay will be working until April. — Jenina P. Ibañez