By Emme Rose S. Santiagudo, Correspondent
ILOILO CITY — The six-month temporary closure of Boracay Island last year contributed significantly to the slowdown of Western Visayas Region’s economic growth, but a recovery is expected despite the regulated entry for tourists and stricter rules now being implemented on the island resort.
National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Regional Director Ro-Ann A. Bacal said the number of tourists in the region dropped by 15% to 4.9 million in 2018 from 5.8 million the previous year.
“The decrease of visitors amounted to almost 900,000 people coming to Region 6, particularly for Boracay. As a result, tourist receipts went down by 18.4%. It also meant 900,000 less passengers for buses, and cars, less customers for hotels, groceries, and less orders for meat, fish, vegetables, foods, spices, and pasalubong items,” she said last week during the 2018 gross regional domestic product (GRDP) presentation held simultaneously nationwide.
Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data shows the Western Visayas 2018 GRDP growth rate dropped to 6.1% from 8.6% in 2017.
Boracay’s temporary closure, implemented April to October for a major rehabilitation program due to environmental degradation, also meant lesser cargo services, labor requirements, jobs, and money in the pockets that would have been circulating in the economy, Ms. Bacal said.
“The loss of income were more critically felt by individuals whose employment were curtailed because of the closure, which had a direct impact to their families, although tempered by the support given by the national government. Families had to hold back on their spending,” she said.
Further, the popular island resort’s closure translated to foregone revenues for local government units (LGUs).
“Basing only on collection on terminal and environmental fees at an average tourist arrival of 5,941, they lost about P57.9 million per month or estimated P347 million for the six-month closure,” she said.
Officials, however, are optimistic of seeing a recovery in the GRDP growth this year given the return of visitors since the reopening as well as continuing investor interest in other parts of the region.
Data from the Department of Tourism-Region 6 office show more than 170,000 monthly visitors came to Boracay in January and February, with foreign tourists comprising more than 60% of the total.
A limit of 19,000 visitors per day is currently imposed on the island, but Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, who heads the task force on Boracay’s rehabilitation, earlier said this could be increased this year as more improvements are undertaken with the continuing rehabilitation program.
Last April 26, Mr. Cimatu said one of the many “visible changes” on the island is improved public infrastructure, which has cut travel time for visitors from the Aklan Jetty Port to their hotels.
Mayor Abram L. Sualog of Malay, the municipality that covers Boracay, said the “most visible change” he considers is the stricter implementation of local ordinances.
Boracay Tourism Regulatory Enforcement Unit Chief Wilson Enriquez said this year alone, more than 1,000 tourists have been apprehended and fined for violating rules against smoking in undesignated areas, eating and drinking at the beach, and littering.
Chinese and Korean tourists, who comprise about 80% of the foreign visitors, were the top violators, according to Mr. Enriquez.
Ms. Bacal said they are confident that the region’s economy will grow faster this year with the continuing roll out of infrastructure projects and investment promotion.
“We see a continuing investor interest in Western Visayas because the region is one of the more ideal investment locations in the country,” she said.