THE DEPARTMENT of Tourism-Western Visayas (DoT-6) office will meet with the region’s industry stakeholders, starting in Boracay, to map out marketing strategies and possible room rate discounts to spur domestic travel. DoT Regional Director Helen J. Catalbas said they will start the discussions this week to cushion the impact of the drop in Chinese tourists amid the travel ban for flights from China, Hong Kong and Macau. “We are looking at meeting with the stakeholders. I go there, talk to establishments with massive cancellations and offer to them the marketing facilities of DoT-6 by having them agree on room rate sales,” Ms. Catalbas said on Friday. “Discounted room rates are better than empty rooms that may result to loss of employment, loss of livelihood, to hundreds of thousands in the region dependent on tourism,” she added. Around 50% of the 434,175 foreigners who visited Boracay in 2019 were Chinese. Ms. Catalbas said it is too early to account for the full impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak in statistical terms, and what can be done now is to stimulate local tourism, even just at the regional level. With the eight million people in Western Visayas, she said, having just a portion of the local population as tourists can help compensate for the losses from the foreign market.
Governor Florencio T. Miraflores of Aklan province, which covers Boracay, said the coronavirus situation compounds the impact of last year’s six-month closure of the popular island destination for rehabilitation and typhoon Ursula (international name: Phanfone) in December. “We barely have recovered from the closure, Ursula, and then this one. It has really a huge impact,” Mr. Miraflores said. “There are still Koreans coming but the businesses that catered to chartered flights direct from China will really be affected,” he added. In the meantime, he said he is hoping that local travelers will keep Boracay businesses afloat. “I would like to assure our local tourists that Boracay is safe. There is no truth to the rumor going around that there is a confirmed case in Boracay,” he said. — Emme Rose S. Santiagudo